Speaking to Adult Children about Divorce
By Michelle Fisher, MSW
Gray divorce. Silver divorce. Mature divorce. Regardless of the label, it’s happening. The divorce rate among couples over 50 is a rapidly growing demographic. People are living longer and better, and many begin to perceive an “extra” life stage, or “next chapter”, owing to lifestyle choices. Some couples have grown apart or choose to end challenging marriages. Many wish to redefine their lives and launch new, or even first, careers after decades of childrearing. There is an abundance of literature available about this on the Internet.
If you are going through a later-in-life divorce, consider the following vis-a-vis your adult children:
- Young adults in their 20s, 30s, or even 40s – often with their own families – are suddenly confronted with a fractured family.
- If you’re 50 or 60-something and divorcing, much of the traditional “divorce talk” that couples are advised to have with their children is not geared toward what your adult children need. “We both still love you, we just don’t love each other”. “You’ll be safe and loved and always have a place in both our homes”. “There will be enough money for soccer and camp”. None of these are what your 20 or 30-something child wants to hear.
- Just because you’re moving on and have removed all photos and physical evidence of the family that no longer exists, your adult child is a part of that broken family. Allow your children the space to acknowledge their loss.
- Where a younger child needs stability and constancy, adult children have different needs. Foster the adult child/parent relationship in present time. Share what’s appropriate and acknowledge that, while your life might look very different, you’re still “Mom” or “Dad”.
- In many instances, divorcing parties live less well, and with less money, than they did when they were married. Adult children might see that their father is living in a sparsely furnished bachelor pad or mom has a walkup after selling the beautifully appointed marital home. Earning potential and income, despite how high it once was, is often diminished as people age. And this is exaggerated in divorce.
- While their married parents traditionally took care of each other, adult children can perceive that they are now “responsible” for their single parents – checking in, being the “emergency contact” on medical forms, inviting them for dinner so they’re not alone, ministering to their health issues, supporting a parent who might be struggling financially. In addition, familial responsibilities can create increased demands on already busy lives: separate visits with each parent versus spending time with parents together.
- Finally, adult children who might have hoped that their parents would help with down payments on their own homes and nursery furniture now see mom re-entering the workforce and unavailable to babysit, or dad not picking up the checks at dinners. They might be worrying about whether they will have to support their parents as they age.
Comments from Adult Children of Divorcing/Divorced Parents
What is on the minds of your adult children? Let’s look at this from the perspective of an adult child via the following excerpts from conversations reported by my clients as we explore how they can move forward in a more positive way with their adult children.
“Mom, just because we are both doing online dating, we are not peers… please talk to your friends, not me, about your dates!” Takeaway: set, and respect, appropriate boundaries. Regardless of her age, your mature, successful daughter is still your child.
“I don’t know who you are anymore, you don’t seem like my Dad”. Takeaway: growing up, you took him to soccer practice, fixed the leaky faucet, and played Santa Claus at Christmas. Now, you’re training for a marathon, wearing skinny jeans, and are out to dinner most evenings. You are entitled to your own adult life, as is your child. Explain to your children that you are still there for them and always will be. Communicate. Consider making time for a father/son breakfast without either of your significant others or kids in tow.
“(Sarcastically) Thank you for arranging a guest room for me in your new house – I can’t wait to be surrounded by random artifacts extracted from my childhood home.” Takeaway: loss of the nuclear family is real and might be a source of pain for your adult child. Even though you got the favorite sofa and put it front and center in your new place, the family – and the marital home it occupied – is gone. Try to listen to, validate, and respect the loss your adult child feels.
“I do not see your new spouse as my stepparent. I am a fully-grown adult and do not want birthday cards from a “stepfather”. Takeaway: just because you are over the moon and remarried, remember that your adult child needs to embrace your new partner on his/her terms. While most adult children are happy to see their parents move on to a healthy relationship, it is best to let them establish their own timetables and boundaries with your new partner.
Tips for Adult Children of Divorcing Parents
- First, put on your own oxygen mask. Get support and talk to people about how you’re feeling. Your family is going through a tough transition, and self-care is crucial for you and your divorcing parents.
- In the moment, you can help by encouraging your parents to seek support from people other than yourself and to secure needed resources. Be as present as you can while gently reminding them that their friends and peers are more appropriate emotional supports than you.
- As difficult as it is, try not to take sides; both of your parents are likely struggling with this.
- It’s often difficult for children to understand why their parents are divorcing and even more puzzling why older people “bother” to get divorced. The Internet is a great source for articles about gray divorce which can help you begin to understand some of the reasons why it is on the rise.
- Having a sense of the landscape can help you prepare for conversations with your parents about the divorce and empower you to offer whatever assistance you can. Gently nudging them toward support groups and comprehensive divorce care services such as Vesta are wonderful ways to help them.
- Your parents’ divorce might come as a shock, and you likely have questions. Make a list, and think about the best time to ask them. Be sensitive and try to avoid questions like “you’re in your 60s, can’t you just hang in there?”
- It can be a challenge for a child to support a parent through a divorce. Nonetheless, it is often the case that divorcing seniors turn to their adult children for help. Moving forward, you might need to share how you feel about this and set some boundaries.
Older people divorcing is a growing cohort. If you are part of this group, try to walk in your children’s shoes and imagine where they might be. How might you have felt if your parents divorced just before your 30th birthday? If your parents did divorce, how did it feel? Listen closely and, if your child appears to be struggling, gently suggest that they speak to a professional to work through some of their feelings about your divorce.
Divorce is a challenge at any age, and gray divorce is complicated. The support of a Certified Divorce Coach can be invaluable to both you and your adult children as you navigate this major transition and look to the future.
Vesta can walk with you through this process. Please feel free to reach out to Vesta, or to me directly, for more resources.
Michelle became a Divorce Coach to help people mitigate the challenges inherent in the divorce process with clarity and integrity.
A former social worker, Michelle is highly skilled in listening to a client’s story. She is quickly able to identify the most pressing concerns, help clients prioritize, feel a sense of control, and set concrete coaching goals.
Vesta is the perfect fit for Michelle who believes that it truly takes a village to get divorced. Her professionalism and commitment to working collaboratively make Vesta the ideal way to support those contemplating, going through, and recovering from divorce.
Click here to learn more about Michelle. CDC Certified Divorce Coach® and CDC Divorce Transition and Recovery Coach®
Tel: 646-598 2599
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For more information on Vesta, please explore our website www.VestaDivorce.com or call our Concierge service for support: 877-355-7649