Adult children and divorce

Adult children of divorced parents is a rapidly growing phenomenon. The amount of over-50’s (or so-called ‘silver-splitters’) who decides to divorce, has currently reached a peak that has doubled since ten years ago. The ‘empty nest syndrome’ and early retirement are often cited as reasons for divorce within a large amount of this group. People live longer, they often have enough money to carry the financial burden of a divorce, and they also realize that their time together is not as blissful as they had hoped. The social stigma of divorce has also decreased. But a family remains a family and specifically within these families there are mostly adult children involved.

When your children are already grown and you then decided to divorce, you maybe think that you do not really need to worry about them. They are probably out of the house and take care of themselves. In other words, the divorce will not change much in their living situation as would be the case with children still living at home. However, most adult children of divorce experience this as a great shock.

Before the divorce, it is important to think carefully about the conversation you would have with your children. What do you tell them, and what not? The boundaries within a parent-child relationship are very thin and you have to be careful not to involve them too much in your problems.

How do they experience it?

In terms of maturity, young adults have more equal relationships with their parents than young children and teenagers. However, they still receive plenty of support on emotional, financial and practical level from both their parents. Their childhood home is still their safe haven where they can always return or retreat in times of need. This safe haven is usually so obvious to them, they probably do not even take into account the possibility of a divorce.

Often adult children feel abandoned and betrayed when they hear their parents are getting divorced. When their parents’ relationship were good in the past, they often feel that their whole youth crumbles underneath them. “Have I seen it all wrong? Was it all a lie?”. But even if you had problems for a long time, they often ask other questions: “Have you only stayed together for my sake? Why did you think it was necessary to do it for me?”. Guilt often arises in the latter case.

The idea that your children have about love and relationships are coloured by a lifetime of images and experiences, but it always has a basis in their parents’ relationship with each other. As parents, you were indeed always there for your children and always together, but now you are divorcing? Could that image then still continue to exist in your children’s memories? Does real love exist? Is it possible to be with one person for the rest of your life? Will my own relationship someday work?
Tell your adult child about divorce
Although it will not make the news any easier, you can still help your children by telling them very calmly and clearly when you decide to get a divorce.

A few tips for talking with your children:

• Be both in the discussion and it is important that BOTH get a chance to speak during the conversation.
• Tell them that you are divorcing and be clear that it is a permanent situation and that you will not get back together again.
• Give a reason why you are splitting up, but don’t discuss finer details of the break in your relationship. This gives your children the chance to still respect you as parents.
• Never expect your children to take sides. Both of you are still a parent of your child and both your relationships with your child is special and very important in his/her life.
• Take blame together for what went wrong.
• Give space to feelings of disappointment, sadness and anger.
• Tell your children that you love them and that will never change.

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