It is unknown how many adoptive parents ultimately divorce their spouses or how many single divorced parents adopt children, but with the high divorce rate nationwide, it is virtually certain that some number of adopted persons' parents will divorce.
Divorce is a traumatic event and process for any child, biological or adopted. In some cases, divorce may be even more painful for an adopted child, especially when that child was adopted at an older age. In addition, even children adopted as infants may feel acutely rejected, both because of loss and separation issues related to adoption and because of the normal losses all children suffer. (The child's age at the time of the divorce is significant in how the child copes with this radical change.)
Researchers Dorothy Le Pere and Carolyne B. Rodriguez explored and wrote about how divorce affects adopted children at various stages of life. According to the two experts, the impact on the child depends in part on the age of the child when the parents divorce. For example, during infancy, the loss of an adoptive parent could be a serious "first loss." During toddlerhood, a child whose parents have just divorced may become unduly clingy and have difficulty striving for autonomy, an important aspect of this stage of life.
Preschoolers may blame themselves for the divorce, presuming some action or inaction on their part was the cause. The egocentrism of this stage of development causes such reasoning on the part of the child. The child may reason that because he had angry thoughts about his father, the father is now leaving, a form of "magical thinking" common to preschoolers.
School-age children may tend to see divorce as a personal rejection of themselves rather than of the other parent.
Adolescence is the rockiest point for many children. A severe reaction to divorce could be abuse of drugs or alcohol or promiscuous sexual behavior. The adolescent may also become concerned or confused by his or her own relationships.
In addition, adopted children may have more emotional baggage with which to struggle if they were adopted at an older age. They need to understand that their place in the family is still secure. Most adopted children, however, can resolve difficulties with the help of the parents and, as needed, professional assistance.
Dorothy Le Pere, A.C.S.W., C.S.W.-A.C.P., Carolyne B. Rodriguez, A.C.S.W., C.S.W., "Adoption and Divorce: The Double Life Crisis," in Adoption Resources for Mental Health Professionals (Butler, Pa.: Mental Health/ Adoption Therapy, September 1986), 270-281.
Matthew Sanford Seidman, "Effects of Separation for Divorce of Adoptive Parents on the Adopted Child." Ph.D. diss., University of Southern California, 1989.
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©2000 by Christine Adamec and William Pierce, Ph.D. Reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Adoption, 2nd Edition (2nd Edition) with permission of Facts On File, Inc.
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