In the divorce world, we get so focused on the children under the age of 18. Children between the ages of 18 and 21 may get a moment’s notice, but children over the age of 21 are routinely ignored.
Unfortunately, children are always affected by their parents’ divorce: if they are 5, 25, or 55. Here are a couple tips for adults whose parents are divorcing, and for divorcing parents with adult children:
If You Have Adult Children:
Let Them Know What Is Going On
Your children are adults, and as such they are used to dealing with adult topics. Let your children know what is going on – preferably both parents should break the news, and do it early on. (There’s an episode of How I Met Your Mother where Ted finds out his parents are divorced (and Mom is in a new relationship), and have been for several months, even though he recently spent the holidays with them – not the way to find out). Ask your children if they have questions about the divorce, if they want to express their feelings, or if they need support. Reassure them that your divorce has nothing to do with them, and that each parent will continue to be their for them.
Keep Them Out Of It
Even though your children are now adults (see above), and even though you may otherwise consider them friends, your children DO NOT want to be in the middle of your divorce. Keep all of the details and mudslinging to yourself. If you need someone to vent to, find a friend or pay a therapist, do not use your children.
Be An Adult About It
One of the biggest complaints adults have about their divorced/divorcing parents has to do with the immature behavior that often comes out around life’s important milestones (graduations, weddings, birth’s, holidays, etc.). Yes, there may be tension between you and the ex. You may not want to see him/her. There may be a new significant other you do not approve of. But none of that has to do with your children and grandchildren. To your children, you and your ex are “Mom” and “Dad.” To your grandchildren, you and your ex are “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” It is important to your children and grandchildren to have “Mom,” “Dad,” “Grandma,” and “Grandpa” at that important family event. Put aside your differences, put a smile on your face, and support your children and grandchildren at those events. You don’t have to be best friends with your ex, but you also don’t need to be bitter enemies. If you really can’t stand the thought of facing your ex, then make plans to celebrate with your family at another time and accept the fact your family will celebrate the event with your ex. But DO NOT start the “You can’t invite HIM!” or “I’m not going if she’s going to be there!” tug of war, your children do not want to be a part of that, nor do they want your grandchildren used as pawns.
If Your Parents Are Divorcing:
Do Not Feel Guilty
it is a natural inclination to feel like the divorce is your fault. It is not.
Communicate – Communication is important. Do not be afraid to share your feelings with your parents. Communicate to them when they are overstepping boundaries by dragging you into the middle of it, or when they are acting childish.
Dynamics change and people can go crazy in a divorce. Set boundaries for yourself and your family. Let Mom and Dad know that you do not want to be involved in their divorce. Discuss expectations for holidays and other events. Don’t let them guilt you into traveling and celebrating each holiday with both of them – with spouse’s, children, in-laws, etc. celebrating separately with everyone just may not be possible. Do not let your parents use you (or your children) as a pawn. Do not feel bad about your wedding, graduation, baby’s first birthday, etc. Expect your parents to be adults about the situation.
While it is important to set boundaries, sometimes it is necessary to be accommodating. Things will change with the divorce, and there may be an adjustment period. Just know the difference between accommodating and doormat.
You are no longer a child, you may even have children of your own, but going through your parents’ divorce can be difficult. Do not be afraid to seek support if you need it.