Gray Divorce and the Impact on Adult Children
We often forget the effects of divorce on older adults. This “gray divorce”, a term that refers to the hair color of older people, can cause disruption and pain. It is often ignored or dismissed.
Even though their parents divorce, adult children are often treated as minor players in a very significant disruption to their family life. They have lived with the same family their whole lives, but there is an expectation that they will be okay because they are now grown.
Divorcing later in life
The divorce rate for adults over 50 has doubled between 1990 and 2015. Why is it that more people are choosing to divorce later in their lives? People are living longer than ever before. They become empty nesters when their children move away from home to pursue higher education, jobs, and so forth. They may still have many decades of life ahead. Although they may have been able to tolerate each other while the children were home, they cannot imagine being married to someone they met decades ago.
Economic factors play a part, too. American women have jobs and careers that are not related to the home. They don’t rely on their partners or husbands financially. Women no longer have to live with their spouses. They can choose to end the relationship if they feel the relationship is not fulfilling.
Gray divorce can have a negative impact on adult children
Many older couples who decide to divorce don’t consider their adult children. Their parents’ divorce shouldn’t affect them, because they are adults at different stages of their adult lives. This is the cultural myth. Couples who divorce with adult children often believe that their children are well-equipped to handle it.
Divorce can cause parents to become so overwhelmed with their emotions of sadness, anger and fear that they are unable to manage their own feelings or those of their children. It’s easy to feel relieved to know that their adult children are fine and that they have nothing to worry about.
This idea is reinforced by the legal system. Adult children are not allowed in the current court system. The courts view them as non-involved. Lawyers advise parents that adult children do not pose a legal problem. The U.S. family courts system has no jurisdiction over the best interests of minor children. This implicit message means that adult children in divorce are not important.
Younger adult children may still be financially dependent upon their parents, even though they are in college or starting a career. They might feel anxious about the future. They may wonder if their parents can continue to support them financially. Students in college might worry about dropping out. Older adult children might need to support one or both parents financially at a time when they’re just starting their careers, juggling parenthood and work. This can cause marital strain and be burdensome. If the parents are not supportive, managing extended family celebrations such as weddings, graduations and births can be a nightmare.
Supporting adult children in divorce proceedings
Parents can offer support to their adult children in many ways. Parents must first understand that divorce can affect their adult children regardless of their age. They must then listen to their adult children. According to research, listening helps people heal.
Adult children can experience a lot of loss and parents need to understand this. You may not see your family again at holiday, graduation, wedding and birth celebrations or traditions. Family feuds that support one parent can cause havoc in the family, extended family and friendships as well as community relationships. Adult children might lose some of these relationships. These relationships may also be lost to grandchildren.
You may find your adult children less happy if you’re going through a gray divorce. You are moving towards a new life. Your adult children are going through losses. Don’t make the other parent feel bad and use your adult child to be your confidant. Adult children are entitled to a different relationship than their parents. Do not force them to choose one side. While it may be your marriage or their other parent, it is not theirs.
How to navigate parental divorce as an adult
Do you struggle to navigate the divorce of your parents as an adult? There are many options for healing and hope, even though divorce can cause distress and break the attachment bonds between adult kids and their parents. You are not alone in your grief, anger, sadness, worry, sadness and anxiety.
Research shows that more than half of adult children report negative emotions about their parents’ divorce. However, they are willing to work with their parents to end the conflict.
Effective communication and boundary setting skills can be learned with your family, friends, parents, and other community members. If you wish to, plan your holiday rituals, traditions, and rituals. Be a confidant to your parent. Encourage your parent to seek professional help (e.g. counselor, clergyman, or therapist) in order to deal with their emotions. Talk to a professional who is familiar with the effects of divorce on adult kids and how to handle your parents’ relationships, re-partnering and remarrying.
You might start by reading our book, Home Will Never be the Same Again: A Guide to Adult Children of Gray Divorce. This book gives voice to adult divorce children and includes the stories of adult children ranging in age from 18 to 50. They are all in various stages of shock, fear and sudden, dramatic changes. We wanted to acknowledge this group, let them know they were not alone, that their pain is normal, and that we could offer them solutions for dealing with the divorce of their parents.