Divorcing parents usually try to protect their young children from as much divorce fall-out as possible. But what happens when the children are young adults, often with families of their own? Divorces of couples over age 50, sometimes called “gray divorces”, have more than doubled since 1990. Too often, older divorcing parents turn to their adult children for all the wrong types of support during the difficult divorce process. If you are an adult child of divorcing parents, here are some tips to help you stay out of the fray. You can still communicate your love and concern—- with appropriate boundaries —- to both parents.
First, you have to speak up for yourself. Your parents are likely so immersed in their own marital breakup that they fail to see the emotional wreckage being visited on you, their adult child. Just because you are twenty seven years old doesn’t mean you want one parent to share the unsavory details of the other parent’s history of marital infidelity, gambling addiction, lack of sex drive, or any other perceived shortcomings in the marital relationship. Nor do you want to try to be fair and listen to the other parent’s view of the breakdown of the marriage. You are not the judge, mediator or lawyer. Tell your parents you want such personal information about their marriage to stay personal and not be shared with you.
Don’t be cast in the role of go-between or messenger from one parent to the other. If your parents can’t communicate effectively during their divorce, their lawyers can take on this role. The fact that your parents are forever tied together by you, their adult child and your siblings, suggests that learning good communication skills should start sooner rather than later to preserve important family relationships over time.
When divorcing parents reveal that they stayed together for many, many years “for the children”, it can be difficult to square that truth with your own positive childhood memories. Some adult children of divorce wonder if their memories of happy family times were, in fact, a lie. Let it be. These memories reflect your own experiences with your parents and the sense of love and security projected by your family. Marital problems occur in almost every marriage, whether they ultimately lead to divorce or not.
Try to roll with the changes in family traditions that accompany the divorce of your parents. A holiday spent with mom should not leave you feeling guilty about dad feeling lonely or neglected. You are not responsible for your parent’s day-to-day or holiday happiness. Feel free to start new traditions that better reflect changing times and your own needs. A sense of humor can be especially helpful in dealing with stressful family situations.
Finally, if you are lucky enough to have siblings, talk with them about your mixed emotions and any difficulties arising from your parents’ divorce. When all of the adult children present a united front on certain issues, for example, not choosing sides in the divorce, it gives each adult sibling more support and sends a clear message to parents about appropriate boundaries.
The Law Office of Jeanne Coleman focuses its practice on family law matters, including collaborative divorce, social security disability cases, and dependency cases. Call now for a consultation appointment with Jeanne to handle all or a portion of your case. Jeanne has been meeting the family law, dependency and social security disability legal needs of Tampa Bay clients for more than twenty-five years.