Article written by Kim Brown
Finding out that your parents are getting divorced is always going to hurt, no matter how old you are.
Grey divorce is on the rise, and as a result, an increasing number of adult children are having to watch their aging parents begin new lives as single people. Adult children likely do not rely on their parents for emotional and financial support the way that young children or teenagers do, but being in this position comes with its own unique challenges.
One or both parents may feel less reluctant about complaining to you about the other parent, or may expect you to be their emotional (or financial) support system now that you are also an adult.
On top of that, you’re watching the foundation on which your life was built, suddenly fall apart. Something that was once so certain no longer exists.
Remember, this is not your divorce, and while you probably want to do everything you can for your parents, it is not up to you to solve all of their problems.
Don’t Blame Or Shame
This was not an easy decision for your parents, and although they do care about your well-being, your parents are more than just parents. The are people who want to be happy. Support them as individuals and resist the temptation to shift the focus on your desire for them to stay together.
Be Supportive, But Don’t Get Caught In The Middle
Divorce can bring out the worst in people, and that includes your parents. If the divorce is contentious, you might hear your parents say a lot of nasty things about each other. You do not have to take sides and you shouldn’t feel like you have to. Let your mom or dad know that you are here for them, but you do not want to hear the negative things they have to say about your other parent.
If you or other family members are hosting a special event, do not invite both parents and assume everything will be okay. During this transitional period, it is important to communicate with both parents. If they are uncomfortable being around each other, then the family should look for alternatives to make both people feel included. Respect their need for space from the other parent.
Encourage Solutions, Not Fights
There are situations where an adult child may be involved with some legal aspects of the divorce. For example, if dad doesn’t have email, he may authorize you to receive correspondence from his lawyer, provided there is no conflict of interest. You would not have permission to make decisions for him, but you would ensure he receives and returns instructions and documents sent through email.
It can be harder to keep your distance when you’re working with one parent in this manner, and some adult children may feel like that parent is being taken advantage of, or getting the short end of the stick. However, you shouldn’t push your parent to fight if family court isn’t necessary.
Grey divorce can be particularly challenging when it comes to finances and division of assets; in some cases, a parent may end up with half of the wealth they thought they would have for retirement. Court would only further diminish their financial resources. As a general rule of thumb, don’t encourage your parent to fight for more if they can come to a fair agreement outside of court. Let the lawyer take care of negotiations.
Take Care Of Yourself
This may sound obvious, but it’s very easy to get too involved with your parents’ divorce. If you find yourself neglecting your own children, your work or your mental or physical health, take a step back and create some boundaries. You do not have to be your parents’ therapist. If they are really struggling and need someone to talk to, they should consider seeking professional help.
On that note, it may also be a good idea to seek professional help for yourself. Your parents’ divorce will have an impact on you, and talking about it with a counsellor will help you through this difficult process.