Dear Adult Children of Divorcing Parents:
So your parents are going through a divorce. Seems odd, right? We tend to think of divorce like a sickness we acquaint with childhood, such as chickenpox. If this was destined to happen, your parents should have gotten it over with in your early childhood years, right? Actually, it is not uncommon for people who are in their later years of life with adult children to decide to get divorced. There are a lot of reasons for this phenomenon. Some people choose to wait until their children are grown, some grow apart over the years, some “cheat” on the other, or maybe they just fall out of love and are tired of going through the motions. Sometimes one parent who has been bullied and belittled (and sometimes abused) by the other during the marriage gets counseling and gets up the nerve to go.
No matter what the reason your parents are splitting up, we have two words for you: Butt out!
However, once you establish an adult relationship with your parents, you will find that adult relationships are not that simple. Some things which appear to be entirely the fault of one parent come into focus as more of a shared issue. You may come to realize that you are identifying with the bullying parent and have disdain for the bullied parent, which you have been experiencing all of your life. Let me give you a clue: if one parent comes crying to you for support and to get yet on “their side” in the divorce litigation – Run! You are a child of both parents; if that parent needs someone to talk to, they should get professional help. Unloading their anxieties and frustrations of the marriage or the divorce litigation on their children is very unhealthy, both for the parent and the child.
We are always concerned when adult children get involved in the divorce litigation to support one parent or punish the other. (In fact, this unfortunately happens with non-adult children. If you see a parent unloading on an at-home, minor sibling, step in and tell the parent to stop, and counsel the sibling to stay out of the middle.) We find that adult children who side with one parent sometimes attempt to “guilt” the rejected parent into accepting an unfair settlement. It is not for the children to judge or to try to get one parent to take less or “walk away.” Do you plan to care for the parent who gets less than they are entitled to in the divorce settlement, when they are old and sick and don’t have enough money to support themselves?
If you are an adult child and have concerns about what is happening in a divorce between your parents, ask the parent you are concerned about to schedule an appointment with you and their lawyer to discuss your concerns. If that parent doesn’t have a lawyer, suggest that they get one. There is no need for a divorce to be ugly. If both parents are willing to be civil, then both parents should know their rights under the law. Their settlement should be fair to both of them.
Once your parent is represented by a competent lawyer and knows their rights, step back. You – and your parents – will have the rest of your lives to pick up the pieces and begin a different relationship. You, your parents and your siblings will be all the better for having taken this advice.