Although your children are grown, don’t underestimate the impact your decision to divorce will have on them. Many adult children view their family life and their parent’s marriage as a foundation for their own relationships and marriages. When parents split up, grown children may worry that if Mom and Dad didn’t make it, what chance do I have? On the flip side, some children become so determined to avoid the same fate as their parents that they may end up making significant and sometimes detrimental compromises in their own relationships.
Much like teens, adult children can also get caught in unhealthy roles when parents part. Some may feel a strong urge to take sides, offer comfort or become a parent’s confidante. Others may feel compelled to repair the relationship between Mom and Dad, keep the peace by trying to negotiate issues, facilitate communication or make everyone happy. Adult children can also struggle with feelings of guilt over their parent’s choice to stay together until they were grown. As a result, they may feel uncertain or question their perceptions of family life as a child.
As you move forward with your divorce, keep in mind that in your adult children’s eyes you will always be Mom and Dad. To avoid placing undo stress on your children, do your best to develop a supportive network to help you sort through your feelings and issues.
Things to look for:
- Withdrawing or cutting off contact with you because they feel angry or ambivalent about your decision.
- Questioning the quality or future of their own marriages or relationships.
- Strong desire to help you resolve problems and preserve the marriage. May try to negotiate or act as mediator.
- Profound sense of loss and sadness.
- May feel conflicted over childhood and struggle over what was genuine and what was not.
What to do:
- Avoid trying to justify or rationalize your decision to your adult child. Respect their feelings of hurt and anger while maintaining contact.
- Reassure your child that while things may not have worked for you that doesn’t mean they won’t have a successful relationship.
- Let them know you appreciate their efforts to be helpful however marriage problems and issues need to stay between you and the other parent. Remind your child that your decision to divorce had nothing to do with them. Even though you child is an adult, you still don’t want them to feel caught between Mom and Dad.
- Normalize feelings of sadness and encourage them to seek healthy ways to manage sense of loss.
- Affirm that what is happening today does not change the happiness that was experienced in the past.