Gray Divorce’s Unexpected Challenge? Your Adult Kids

Family that was torn apart by gray divorce.

You’d like to believe that your adult children will be able to take your divorce in stride…

Divorcing when you’re 50 or older has a unique set of challenges (including the label “gray divorce”). You face more complicated financial concerns because retirement is that much closer (CNBC). Health insurance and health care are more important to get right than it was in your 20’s. You may also wind up paying spousal support for the rest of your life (Covy).

You’ve probably already considered or dealt with these issues of retirement, health care/insurance, and alimony when it comes to your over-50 divorce. But the one surprising issue you may get to deal with is the reaction your adults kids are having to your divorce.

There’s probably a part of you that believed your kids would behave and react as the adults they are instead of the children they were, but divorce is hard on kids no matter what their age. They never want the dream of their parents staying together swept away.

But the challenges for adult kids of divorce (AKODs) are a bit different from those for younger kids simply because they are adults and the relationship you and your ex have with them.

Here are 5 of the most common ways that AKODs have difficulty with their parents’ divorce:

  1. They question their identity and feel bewildered, lost and maybe even betrayed. Believe it or not, our families play a large part in who we see ourselves as and how we interact with the world. We even tend model the behavior of our parents in our relationships.But when their parents’ divorce, AKODs question what was real about their family. Was any of it true? Did their parents just stay together for their sake? Should they take sides? How can they deal with all of this when they’ve got their own family to raise? And a million others…
  2. They know too many details about why you’re getting divorced. Unlike younger children, AKODs usually get to hear all the details about their parents’ divorce. They don’t want to hear it! They don’t know what to do with the information because the truth is they love both of you. They don’t want to take sides. They feel torn. They’re stuck agreeing with dad when he complains about mom and agreeing with mom when she complains about dad because they love both of you and want you both to feel better (or maybe just get back together).
  3. They might feel compelled to play parent, mediator or friend to both of you.This is where you can help your adult kids a lot: DON’T expect them to provide guidance as you go through your divorce. Just like younger kids, your adult kids will want to help make you feel better, but it’s not their job. Find a therapist or coach to guide you instead of your kids.
  4. They might need to work with a therapist to work through their feelings about your divorce. Your adult kids have their own lives and worries without taking on yours as well. You and your ex may have been their primary source of support, but now neither of you are up to the task because of your own struggles. It’s a great idea for them to reach out to a neutral person to work through their feelings about your divorce.
  5. They need to grieve the loss of their family as they knew it. The death of your marriage is the death of their family. Your divorce shatters their dreams of having their parents and family live happily ever after.Your kids need to mourn their losses. They’ll grieve and probably won’t be quite themselves as they work through their grief. They might be more tense or curt. They might not want to talk with you as much as you’d like. But once they work through their grief (just like you have to work through yours), they’ll be back to themselves too.

As many differences as there are with gray divorce, there’s one thing that’s constant no matter when you get divorced: your divorce will impact your children. Your job as a parent is to understand that your adult kids will need to have your support as they come to terms with your divorce because a parent’s job is never really done.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceIf you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

If you’re looking for more help dealing with the challenges of your gray divorce, read more articles about Life After Divorce.