The stigma of getting a divorce is starting to lift. According to AARP (2012), divorce for people over 50 has nearly double since the 1990’s. Retirement and empty nest syndrome are often triggers for relational tension that result in divorce.
Adult children of divorced parents often respond stronger than people would think. Expecting your adult children to take it in stride might not be realistic. This can completely change the relational dynamics. Children’s worldviews can be challenged by this, they might start to question their childhood memories, and they might even struggle with guilt. “My parents said they stayed together all those years because of me.” Adult children might view the situation as not just their parents separating, but rather that they are “losing their family”.
So how do we navigate these murky waters and how do we preserve the relationship with our adult children?
Try to understand what they are feeling.
This can be hard because you are going through a very difficult time yourself –your divorce, but understanding that this is a trauma for your adult children as well, can make it easier to response in a positive way to them. Your adult children might be angry at you, they might feel depressed or they might even try and fix the relationship for you. No matter how your child responds, do not try to rush them through their grieving process.
Try to respect your adult children’s boundaries.
An interesting dynamic that happens with parents divorcing with adult children, is the parents often heavily depend on the children to transition through the divorce. Parents might forget that the children are grieving too. Your child may want to help but your child may not. Be aware that this might be difficult for them, and look for other help if it is presenting as a problem for your child.
Do not talk bad about your spouse to your adult child.
It may feel like they are an adult and they can handle it, but keep in mind that they are not your confidant. Talking bad about your spouse to your child could lead to your child taking sides, or it could hurt their relationship with either parent. They may be mad at you for talking bad, or they may side with you and be angry with the other spouse. Either response is not in the best interest of the family. In addition to not being able to hear bad things about your spouse, this also means your child might not be able to celebrate with you different aspects of your new life that you may enjoy. Try to be sensitive to this.
Re-establish that your love for them has not changed.
Show your children with actions that even though you are not married anymore, you still are the same person to them that you have always been. If you used to be a good listener for them, continue to do so. If you used to go out to coffee continue that routine.
It can be rough, especially for the first year after the divorce. Do not be afraid to seek counsel if you feel your relationship with your children is severely damaged.
Abrahms, S.,( 2012). Life After Divorce: More Boomers are Calling it Quits after Years of Marriage. Retrieved on September 20th, 2012 from http://www.aarp.org.