When children become adults, it is normal to have expectations about their maturity. For the most part, we assume they will handle life situations with an age-appropriate response. However, when it comes to the impact of your divorce on them, their reactions can be anything but adult.
There is a believed myth that when “kids” become adults, the divorce of their parent’s won’t affect them. However, adult children of divorce, or ACODs as they are sometimes labeled, are not immune feeling an impact from it. In fact, your divorce can affect them just as much, or even more than younger children.
The legal system also reinforces this idea. There is nothing in the current court structure for divorce proceedings that acknowledges adult children. Settlement and judgments only involve minor children, which is practical in the sense that they cannot fend for themselves. However, just because your adult kids aren’t legally involved, this event will rock their world.
Growing into adulthood often brings a greater understanding of adult relationships. Yet, when it comes to the break-up their parents’ marriage all bets are off. ACODs can feel shock, pain, grief, loss and more when they find out their parents are breaking up. And don’t be surprised by anger and hurt if they find out you waited until they left home to pull the plug. While your intentions may have been good, the fact that you waited can leave them feeling guilty. The only message they may get is that you stayed miserable because of them, which might make them feel responsible for your misery.
Then there are the conflicts frequently created between separating parents when the divorce happens. To watch ugly struggles and disputes are difficult at best for adult kids to handle. In fact, it is because the “kids” are adults that they often feel less protected from the fray.
Believing your relationship with your spouse no longer concerns your adult children is an uninformed way to think. For most of them, it will be devastating. Their lives are going to be forever changed, and just like you, they will suffer losses. There’s the loss of their family home if it is sold or the contents divided; they will lose traditional family gatherings at Christmas or other holidays; they will no longer be able to visit their parents together as a couple; and sharing family memories may become awkward or upsetting. The list can go on and on for them, just as it will for you. Expecting them to be “okay” is naïve at best. In fact, your divorce may make them question the strength of their own marital relationship
Tips To Help Ease Their Pain
There are, however, some things you can do as a parent to help your adult children as they walk their own journey through your divorce. While it is not your responsibility to rescue them or bear their pain, there are things you can do and boundaries you can establish that may help them.
- If possible, tell your adult children about the separation or divorce together with your soon-to-be ex. Face-to-face is best. Texts or emails are an extremely cold and insensitive way to share this news. Also, don’t tell one of your children and then put the burden on them to share this information with their siblings. That’s totally unfair. It is your responsibility.
- Withhold intimate details and share just the facts. Because you are hurting, it will be tempting to share your pain with your kids. Keep your anger and hurt to yourself as much as possible. Try to be aware if you are feeling frustrated or bitter about your divorce. Those emotions often spill onto your family if not dealt with appropriately. Look for other avenues for healing like counseling or a support group. Working to forgive will also help.
- While young children can feel responsible for their parent’s divorce, it might not be as apparent that adult children might feel guilty as well. Reassure them they are not at fault for any of the issues leading to the breakup.
- If your adult children are angry with you and try to blame you, remain calm and kindly remind them the divorce is between you and their other parent. They do have the right to an opinion but not the right to belittle or harass you.
- Keep your critical opinions of your ex to a minimum. This is important even when your children come to you to complain about their relationship with their other parent. Acknowledge their right to those feelings without adding fuel to the fire. Comments like, “I’m sorry,” or “I wish things were different” can be encouraging to them without dragging both of you into a pit of resentment and anger
- Try not to put them in the middle or ask them to take sides. No matter how much you would like it, expecting loyalty only to you isn’t fair to them. Give your adult children the freedom to have a relationship with their other parent and even that parent’s extended family if they wish. This does not mean they love you less, just that they love you both as well as the rest of the family on both sides.
- Try to keep your divorce from becoming an all-out war. There will still be special events you will no doubt share with your ex. Things like weddings, birthday parties, graduations, etc., will probably include both of you. Working to be gracious will make it easier for your kids and can help you enjoy these celebrations without feeling awkward.
- Allow your adult child to grieve in their own way. If they exhibit anger, frustration or even if they pull away from you for a while, give them that freedom. It’s not a personal insult but may be the only way they know how to deal with their feelings about the demise of your marriage.
- If you have young adult children still in college, they may experience anxiety and fear about their education and well-being. Thus, you may need to create a plan that includes expenses (college, insurance, cell phones, living arrangements, etc.). As difficult as it may be, you’ll have to work with your ex-spouse on these important issues.
- Check in with your “kids” appropriately. In other words, let them know how you are doing without being a pest. While they will want to know you are alright, they don’t need to get calls in the middle of their workday, hour-long conversations when they are trying to study or crying sessions when they are with their own family.
- Adjust your expectations for your adult children’s’ timetable for handling the divorce. Everyone grieves differently. Allow them to heal at their own pace.
Be Their Inspiration
This situation is going to be painful for you and for your kids no matter what their age. While you know you aren’t responsible for the way your adult children cope with your divorce, you can be an inspiration to them. The way you handle the process, take care of yourself, and heal can be an example that will help them on their own journey through this difficult event.
Even though dealing with adult child of divorce may be different than helping a young child cope with it, the truth is the same basic principles apply. In short, no matter who you are, or how old you are, if you’re a divorcing parent, the situation will absolutely impact your kids, young and old. While talking about your decision with your adult children may be one of the most difficult parts of your divorce, remembering these tips can help. Give yourself grace and don’t try to be perfect. You will get through this tough time and so will your adult kids.