For most couples seeking a divorce or a dissolution of their relationship, children are the primary concern and rightly so. We fall in love, partner or marry, expand the family and then, all too often, problems develop and the end of a partnership or divorce follows. It is the choice of parents and the responsibility of parents to ‘protect’ all children from the fallout of the dissolution of a relationship or divorce and subsequent changes in their lives. As parents, you agonize over custody and parenting time, vacation and holiday schedules, camp, activities etc. Discussions and papers abound, in media, on how to plan for younger children and divorce but often fail to address the impact of divorce on older teen-agers, young adults and, even adult children. It’s so important for parents to be mindful of the needs, concerns and feelings of that population too. As long as we have parents, we are still children, no matter our age in years.
Teen-agers, especially those over sixteen, are often ambivalent about home. They have one foot out the door, preferring to be with their peers, thinking about being more independent, their own romances, learning to drive, contemplating or preparing for college or work and being away from home with no parent to tell them when to sleep, study or set curfews. At the same time, home is also that safe place they have known for all of their years. Parents often complain about their teens’ thinking they know it all while still exhibiting childish behaviors. There can be a lot of testing limits.
Learning about parents separating and/or divorcing can shake teens’ emotional foundation [what they’ve always known or thought] and lead to feelings of loss of control. They have more opinions than younger children and may take to blaming both or one parent, especially if they think, or are told, that just one parent caused the break-up. They may feel that they have to be in charge, particularly with the parent they feel has been hurt and is not managing well.
It’s important to allow teens to express their feelings, including disappointment and anger. You need to keep the communication door wide open so teens don’t resort to acting out their feelings, with alcohol, drugs, sex, dropping school work and other self-destructive behaviors. Listening to their anger, etc. doesn’t mean that you don’t maintain many of your boundaries and restrictions. Don’t drop your boundaries because you feel guilty or bad for them, They need to see that life goes on. Teens are especially vulnerable. Being able to do or get away with anything can be just as unsettling to a teen as having too many limits. This is why cooperative co-parenting is so crucial.
Many parents believe that their emancipated offspring are completely launched, often with families of their own and, therefore, not affected by their parents’ marital dissolution. Wrong! Once children leave the nest, they are still affected by the breakup of their family unit. As a therapist, I have heard: “I’ve never seen a normal relationship,” “I’ll probably make the same mistake,” “I’ll need to take care of myself because I don’t trust anyone now” and “Why are they doing this to us now.” Older children worry about their parents, how they will each manage, financially, emotionally, etc., especially the parent who says they did not want the divorce, feeling they need to be protective of that parent and angry with the other…another good reason for parents to be vague about such details.
Divorcing parents need to protect all their children from ‘adult information’, even when those children are parents themselves. They need not be placed in the middle and need not be a confidant to either parent. That’s what friends are for! Adult children who become parental confidants are at risk of becoming less secure about the future of their own relationship or marriage. Also, they may need to deal with their children’s feelings and reactions to their grandparents coming apart, particularly if they are close to them and… their own children worrying if that will happen to their parents.
Adult children have to alter their ways to remain connected with both parents, more so if parents no longer live near each other. How, if possible, to split or alternate holidays and other visits? Some families are still able to share holidays, grandchildren’s birthdays, graduations, etc. together. Concerns can arise, with older parents. who are divorcing at increasing rates, about how to take care of them, as they age and are living alone. Older adult children may also have reactions to a parent’s new love interest, especially if that is presented during or soon after a divorce.
When divorcing, be aware that your coupled or married children are still vulnerable. Here are some guidelines:
- Agree with your partner/spouse to keep certain personal information confidential.
- Tell your child[ren] calmly and peacefully, together; it sets the tone for “We
are coming apart but are not enemies”.
- Never ask, or hint, that they need to take sides.
- Never speak negatively about their other parent or his/her new partner.
- Have a good support system [friends, family] and let your child[ren] know that.
Take your care of yourself !
- Be accepting and flexible with their having to divide visits and holidays.
- Reach out, when possible, to include the other parent in family celebrations, to demonstrate civility and respect and not have to have your children celebrate twice or miss one parent on special occasions.
It’s about ‘how you ‘do’ divorce that determines much of how your children, young, teen-age or adult children will fare. The work is not easy but the rewards are so well worth it!