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Students deal with divorced parents

BY HOLLY HINES | DECEMBER 18, 2009 7:30 AM

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As UI freshman Elizabeth Alpert finishes her final exams today and prepares to travel home for winter break, she’s preparing herself for a different atmosphere.

Just after she started classes at the UI, her parents filed for divorce.

And though she’s excited about seeing her friends and each of her parents individually, Alpert said, she’s not looking forward to complications that come with the recent family change.

“It’s stressful to be home,” she said. “It’s really kind of relaxing to be away right now.”

She is not alone.

A large number of students see their parents divorce right after leaving for college, said Stephen Trefz, the director of the Iowa City-based Mid-Eastern Iowa Mental Health Center.

Divorce rates peak after 25 years of marriage, typically a time when children reach college-age, he said. Couples are also more likely to divorce after one, seven, and 15 years of marriage.

Alpert, a biochemistry student, said moving to the UI campus from her hectic home in Mount Prospect, Ill., helped her escape some tension she sensed during her senior year of high school.

Lately she’s been worried about possible arguments she could encounter at home, particularly when it comes to spending time with each parent. Alpert said her mother likes to schedule things in advance, and her father is more spontaneous, which has caused conflicts in the past.

“I do what I can. I try to make sure I see both people equally,” she said.

Alpert’s father isn’t coming to Christmas Eve festivities with her mother’s side of the family this year, she said, and she’ll miss having him there.

University Counseling Service staff members see many students with concerns about parents who have recently divorced, said Julie Corkery, a UI counselor.

Many of them are worried about how to split their time between parents, she said.

Corkery said UI counselors often help these students learn to meet their own needs as well as those of their parents. She typically advises them to prepare for disappointments at home but to also search for a silver lining such as improved relationships with each parent.

Brad Brunick, a UI psychologist, said students are often concerned about what role they should play in their changing families.

“Students can’t help but be affected,” he said, and children should know they don’t always need to be involved in problem-solving between their parents.

Brunick also said it’s important for students to identify a stable source of support, such as an athletics team or a faith community. Alpert said she turns to her friends when “things get crazy.”

Her parents understand when she needs to get away from family conflicts, she said, and she’s looking forward to different experiences with each of them when she gets home.

She enjoys taking the train to Chicago with her mother. With her father, she prefers watching movies or going to a nearby shooting range.

“I’m just excited to see both of them on my own,” she said. “Together, not so much, but alone.”


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