How to Support Your Adult Kids When You Get a Divorce

Divorce is never easy. In fact, most of us would rather crawl through a mile of broken glass, over steep hills, in gym shorts than go through the pain of a divorce! A divorce affects everyone in the family, no matter how young or old.
Divorce sucks.
It’s tough on everyone involved, including your kids. Many couples try to stay together for the children, thinking that it will give a sense of stability to the family. The truth is, your children hear you fighting, they see the anger on your face, and they can feel the tension in the home.
Newsflash: your marital unhappiness is not a secret! The idea that staying in a miserable marriage will create emotionally healthy kids is false.
So what happens if you make the decision to “stay together for the kids?”
You will likely end up divorcing when your kids are grown adults.

A Divorce Will Impact Your Adult Children

When your children are grown and have lives of their own, it can be even more challenging to navigate the fallout of a marital breakup. If you are married and considering divorce, you may be struggling to find the right words to say when it comes to your adult children. You want to be supportive, but you also want to make sure they understand why you and their other parent are going your separate ways.
To be truthful, there is nothing easy about telling your adult kids bad news. You should be prepared for a range of responses. Some adult kids will feel relief when they hear you are divorcing. They secretly wished you would have divorced years ago but might have kept quiet about it.
Or your adult children might feel compelled to take sides. They might feel a need to support or protect one parent more than the other. Despite being incredibly painful, you cannot do much should this happen. Emotional reactions can be unpredictable; try to work on staying emotionally balanced in your actions and responses.
So, what should you say and do when breaking the news of a divorce to your kids? As a Marriage and Family therapist, here are some of my basic suggestions for this difficult conversation.
Photo credit: Vecteezy

 Be Honest And Transparent

Be honest with your adult children. You don’t have to go into great detail about the reasons for the divorce if you don’t want to, but you do need to be open and transparent about the fact that it’s happening. Your kids are grown-ups now, and they can handle the truth. They may have questions or concerns, and you should be willing to listen to them and address their issues.
If your marriage has been a dumpster fire for years, don’t expect them to act surprised. If they have questions you aren’t willing to answer, tell them you are leaving that topic “off the table.” There might be a time when you are willing to circle back after some healing has taken place and discuss topics that were too painful while divorcing.


Don’t Badmouth Your Ex-spouse

Treat this like the 11th commandment. Do Not Bad Mouth Their Father Or Mother. Ever.
Talking negatively about your ex-spouse can be tempting, especially if you’re hurt or angry about the divorce. This is not a productive way to handle the situation, especially when it comes to your adult children. They may feel caught in the middle, and badmouthing their other parent will only make things worse. It’s essential to keep your opinions to yourself and let your kids form their own opinion of their other parent.
Asking your adult kids to help you “carry” your emotional baggage is immature. If there is information about their parent that is vital to them having a safe relationship with him/her, then share that with them. This would include physical abuse, criminal activities, and choices that could harm your children or their family.
This does not include the details of infidelity, the worst things your spouse said to you, or the excessive debt due to gambling; you get the idea. If your soon-to-be former spouse is truly a monster, it will be revealed with time.


Offer Emotional Support

Your adult children may be feeling a lot of emotions right now, including sadness, anger, and confusion. They may need your emotional support more than anything else. Make sure they know you’re there for them and that you’re willing to listen to them if they want to talk. Try to validate their feelings and let them know they’re not alone.
Frankly, you might not have the emotional bandwidth right now to help your adult kids process the divorce. That is normal; emotional fatigue and numbness can happen during a divorce. It’s not wrong to suggest a person outside of the family as a support for your kids. Maybe you have a long-time family friend who could listen to the kids without judgment.
Don’t get caught in the idea that you have to be the only support they need. Developing a community of supportive people outside of Mom and Dad is a critical part of growing up. Let your kids do some of their emotional processing with another safe, accepting adult.


Respect Their Boundaries

Your adult children are no longer kids; they have their own lives and responsibilities. You may want to lean on them for support during this time, but it’s important to respect their boundaries. They may not want to be involved in the divorce proceedings or hear all the details of what’s happening. Make sure to ask them what they’re comfortable with, and don’t push them to do anything they don’t want to do.
Again, we must stop asking our kids to help us carry our emotional burdens. Don’t isolate yourself during this difficult time; make sure you stay connected to close friends and loving family members.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

Finally, if you or your children are struggling to deal with the impact of the divorce, it may be a good idea to seek professional help. There are many therapists and counselors who specialize in helping families through the aftermath of a divorce. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you feel like you need it.


Things Will Get Better

Divorce is never easy, but it can be especially tough when you have adult children. Take time to explore their fears about the impact of your divorce on their lives. Be open to questions, but don’t fall into the trap of oversharing the nasty details. The more emotionally mature you are during this process, the better the long-term outcome for your family.
This article has been shortened for syndication. The original article appears on Midlife is Magical.
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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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