Many couples mistakenly assume that their adult children will be accepting of their divorce. So, some parents wait until they have an empty nest before filing for divorce. After all, the kids have made their own way in life and are off to college, jobs, or their own families. Alas, divorce impacts a family no matter what age a child is.
Side Effects Experienced by Adult Children When Parents Divorce
You don’t have to be the person getting a divorce to experience the stages of grief this experience causes. Children of any age are susceptible to sadness, alarm, anger, and frustration that can develop after their parents split.
Unfortunately, adult children are not necessarily at liberty to indulge their feelings. Rather than having the ability to retreat to their bedroom or escape to a friend’s house to process the divorce news like little kids and teens, there are jobs to go to and responsibilities to carry out. There is no time to fall to pieces.
But this avoidance doesn’t mean adult children aren’t considering what’s going on with their parents. Adult children may look at decades of family love as a sham. They may wonder why their parents didn’t pull the plug earlier, and then feel guilt that the two stayed together for the sake of the kids. There may also be plenty of confusion, especially in a household where parents did not have a combative relationship.
A later-life divorce by parents can influence young adults as they embark on their own romantic relationships. They may wonder if marriage is worth it if they’ll end up being alone like their parents in 20 or 30 years anyway. They may enter relationships and self-sabotage them, or be unable to make decisions about how they feel about another person.
Role Reversals in Parental Divorce
Adult children can be blindsided by their parents’ divorce, and things can become even more confusing when the situation starts panning out in unexpected ways or roles begin to reverse.
Some adult children unwillingly become a parent’s confidant, becoming the de facto sounding board for their parents’ complaints about the difficulties of their divorce. And all the while they will be trying to reconcile the parents they once thought they knew in a happy home with the parents who exist now as separate entities.
Adult children who are leaned on by their parents for emotional divorce support often find themselves unable to adequately tend to their own emotional needs and grief. This is incredibly problematic. And it can lead to adult children pulling away from both of their parents.
Best Practices for Telling Adult Children About Late-in-Life Divorce
Telling kids about divorce – no matter their age – should be done with tact. Parents may take the easy way out and deliver the news in an offhand way, via email or even text, which can be scarring even for an adult. Be mindful of the news you are relaying, and know your child well enough to respect their response to the situation, even if it feels like a juvenile reaction.
Reassure your adult children that the divorce had nothing to do with them. Even though it may feel like your child should know better, this is Mom and Dad we’re talking about – they may not live under your roof anymore, but the love is still there.
Respect the parent-child relationship and don’t cross boundaries because you need a shoulder to cry on or an outlet for the stress you’re experiencing. Find a therapist if you don’t have anyone else to talk to, express your concerns to your Michigan divorce attorney, but leave your children out of that side of the equation.