It seems like everything must have a title nowadays, doesn’t it? We’ve even managed to come up with a term that describes what happens when a long-time married couple calls it splitsville after the age of 50. It’s called “grey divorce.”
Apparently, it’s all the rage and on the rise. And though sociologists cannot pinpoint the exact reasoning for the spike, it has been reported that the number of grey divorces has doubled since the 1990s! What’s even stranger? The majority are not second marriage failures. Fifty-five percent of these grey divorces are happening to marriage numero uno, and at times, after 20 years or more (see Tipper and Al Gore or the Captain and Tenile).
Though I had not quite reached the age of 50 when my marriage dissolved, our union lasted almost 27 years before we called it quits. And truth be told, if not for my fabulous hairdresser, I would have been labeled a grey divorcee. Since our children were adults (26 and 23 respectively) and had their own lives, I think the ex and I believed, along with the rest of the world, that our new marital status would not affect them.
Collectively, we couldn’t have been more wrong!
Here are some of the reasons adult children are traumatized by divorce, too:
1. It rocks their world:
Even though they might not depend on us anymore, adult children still desire a touchstone, a place that feels stable in their ever-expanding and changing worlds. They might just be graduating from college, living on their own for the first time, beginning their career, getting married, or starting a family of their own. All of these events are big changes, and sometimes when so much is changing, it’s helpful to have a constant. That constant is often their intact family. Newly divorced parents only add to their list of big life changes.
2. They are expected to “get over it” immediately:
When the parents of minor children split, in most cases, the whole village bands together to watch over them. Grandparents, teachers, aunts and uncles, clergyman, coaches, etc. Everyone understands that it could affect their behavior, mood, or self-esteem, and they watch for those signs. It seems to be understood that minor children will take a while to process the divorce, and for the most part, they are given a wide berth to heal. The same cannot be said for adult children. Most people believe that once you have your own life, your parents’ lives should not be an issue. They are expected to move on from this trauma almost immediately and they are not likely to ask for any help in doing so.
3. The financial landscape changes drastically:
When assets get divided, it becomes more difficult for parents to be able to assist their adult children financially. This could mean that the college education they thought would be paid for isn’t; or the financial assistance they were depending on for their upcoming nuptials is not available. This all becomes compounded if there are second marriages and additional children later in their parents’ lives.
4. Social events are more awkward:
When parents of minor children get divorced, they are forced into co-parenting, which means a modicum of interaction is necessary. In most cases, there are pick-ups, drop-offs, school events, etc. Over time, those parents probably learn to strike a balance of professional civility with the other parent. I would also imagine those encounters become much less awkward over time. When parents of adult children get divorced, there is no need for any type of contact. Most people, like myself, for instance, embrace this concept. I will not deny, however, that if there is a marriage or christening in our future, it will in all likelihood be very awkward.
5. They are often treated as confidants instead of children:
Unfortunately, adult children are often given too many details about their parents’ divorce than they would get if they were minor children. Parents might even petition with them to take sides. I’m no expert, but in my humble opinion, children are children forever. Though I made a lot of mistakes during my divorce, this was not one of them. I was honest with the both of them without commentary. They both knew about their dad’s affair since it had happened three years prior. I just explained that as hard as I tried, I couldn’t trust him anymore, so I asked for a divorce. No name calling, no hyperbole, just the straight up truth.
Oddly enough, those words were the last I spoke to them about their father. I never ask them questions about his life because I think that would be awkward for them; almost as though I were prying. If they talk about their dad, I listen and nod politely, but that’s about it. This is mostly because I haven’t seen or talked to him in well over two years. Any commentary I make would definitely not add any value to the conversation; it would only add length. Quite frankly, it is my preference to keep those conversations short, and since they are very one-sided, they usually are — if they happen at all.
What’s the bottom line? I know that parents often feel guilt about divorce, even if it’s later in life. I don’t mean to pile on that guilt because some relationships are so toxic that the only course of action is divorce. It is extremely important, however, to be sure that divorcing parents consider their adult children and realize that this change will be difficult for them despite their age.
The best thing we can do is give them space to heal and resist the urge to give them any more information than is necessary. They are still our children after all and still look to their parents to keep their world somewhat safe.