When parents first learn that their adult child is getting a divorce, they experience an avalanche of emotions.
The first reaction is often shock. If folks have thought that the couple’s relationship was rock solid, they’re blown away by the news that the marriage has soured. They may even worry about how their own lives will be different after this family unit has disintegrated.
Moms and dads may experience profound sadness. They mourn the end of a household they once loved and cherished. They grieve for the future holidays that won’t happen. They miss the son — or daughter-in-law — they’ve welcomed into their hearts and homes.
They may also feel powerless. They’ve become helpless victims in a scenario they didn’t create and certainly didn’t want.
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Sometimes parents disliked their child’s spouse and are relieved the marriage has ended. Other times, they’re angry at that person for causing the relationship to fall apart.
Folks may feel the need to assist an adult child who is struggling in the wake of the breakup. Their first reaction may be to move that adult child as well as any grandchildren into their home. Then they’re faced with the ensuing stress and resentment that such major changes can cause in their daily lives.
Finally, parents worry about the grandkids. They’re rightfully concerned about the welfare of the next generation. They want to do all they can to keep connected and provide stability in their young, disrupted lives. Yet they don’t want to interfere or risk creating more problems.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
Tips for handling your child’s divorce:
- Be a source of support. Listen to your grown children. Express undying love and loyalty, regardless of the events that led to the breakup.
- Encourage professional help. Parents are not therapists. Their filial devotion glosses over problems and inevitably skews their advice. Seek a trained professional to provide appropriate counsel.
- Don’t take sides. Divorce is never one-sided. There are layers of issues at play. Acknowledge the fact that all parties are experiencing upheaval. There’s no need to assign blame.
- Don’t speak badly about the ex. Stay neutral. Statements such as, “Good riddance. The bum never held a steady job,” may be honest and well-intentioned, but undermine the complexity of the situation and risk backfiring. The warring spouses were once attracted to each other and may rekindle their feelings at a future date.
- Offer financial assistance carefully. Children going through divorce might need help with housing or court fees. Yet handouts could kindle dependence on the part of the children and excessive emotional involvement by the parents. Be specific about the intent and amount of the gifts and whether repayment is expected.
- Spend time with the grandchildren. The grandchildren will benefit from your presence and security. Call, visit and FaceTime often. Continue activities you’ve shared and enjoyed. Listen to their feelings about the breakup. Answer questions as best you can.
- Maintain a relationship with your child’s ex-spouse. The ex-spouse is your passport to the grandchildren. Be cordial and respectful at all times.