Some couples delay the dissolution of their marriage for the sake of their children. They reason that if the kids are older and out on their own, then the impact of the divorce will be diminished.
The intensity and severity of loss the children feel regarding their parents’ divorce is dependent on many variables beyond just their chronological age. Yet due to the rationale that adult children won’t be affected now that they “have lives of their own”, divorcing parents often overlook or minimize their adult children’s feelings during this family crisis. Unfortunately, sometimes adult children get assigned the role of confidant or ally. Although this role is both unwanted and stressful, many adult children may not want to “hurt or complicate the situation by speaking up.” They may just internalize their pain or else distance from one or both parents.
Here are some valuable insights I have learned from speaking with adult children regarding their parents’ behavior during divorce. Being aware of these issues, can diminish conflict and insure that long after the divorce dust settles, your relationship with your children is not irreparably damaged.
Here are ten things adult children would really like their divorcing parents to know.
- Remember the person you are divorcing is our other parent. Please spare us the details of your finances, sex life, legal battle and emotional angst. If it was private during your marriage, then keep it private during your divorce. You may not have a problem betraying your spouse’s privacy, but we have a problem when you cross generational boundaries. Tell your friends, therapist or minister. (But please don’t tell us!)
- Please don’t expect us to hang out with you, to be your best friend, date, surrogate spouse, confidante or therapist.
- Don’t nag or compare how much time we spend (or don’t spend) with each of you. Keeping a scorecard and complaining, “It isn’t fair. I don’t have equal time” just makes you seem petty.
- Please don’t expect us to be overjoyed with your new relationship. You may feel as if you have found the love of your life. To us, that person is an interloper in our family.
- It hurts us when you compare your “new children” to us. We don’t want to hear how accepting they are of you and how great a relationship you all have forged. We feel replaced.
- Please don’t expect us to hate your spouse for what they did. You are divorcing your spouse; don’t ask us to divorce our parent. We love you both. Really.
- Don’t expect our recovery time line to be the same as yours. We may get over it quicker than you or it may take us longer. Be patient with us. Please don’t judge our feelings and we will try not to judge yours.
- Don’t expect us to be unaffected by your divorce. Just because we are in college or out on our own, doesn’t mean our parents divorcing does not hurt us. Our family, our history and our future are forever altered. We can deal with it and we will, but don’t act shocked by our response.
- Be aware this divorce impacts us in practical ways- vacations, holidays, inheritance and our caring giving responsibilities just to name a few. If you remarry, our children may not be your only grandchildren. Don’t assume this is no big deal to us. Ask us about our concerns. We still need you to act like parents.
- Please remember our perspective is different than yours as the relationship is different. You are divorcing your spouse. Our parents are getting a divorce. Different experience; different point of view. Don’t expect us to feel the same way you do.
Lastly, we love you both. While you may think your cheating, lying, manipulative spouse has a “no right” to have us love him/her; the truth is WE have the right to love and to have a healthy caring relationship with BOTH of you. Don’t make us pawns in your battle. We simply ask that you love us more than you hate each other.