One of the great things about being older is that our children are adults. Relationships where we have all the power, set the rules, and dole out consequences change into more balanced, peer relationships. Perhaps they’re now asking for our advice about parenting their own children rather than looking for opportunities to rebel.
It’s nice to be able to talk openly with your grown children about things you would not discuss with them when it was your responsibility to protect them from things which might rock their worlds and have them grow up more quickly than you might like. It’s freeing to be able to have a glass of wine with your child and share things you would share with a friend.
But your adult child is still your child. Adult children still (correctly) think of themselves as half Mom and half Dad. It puts them in an awkward situation to hear their parents talk badly about each other or share intimate details of a divorce. Here are some tips for dealing with your adult children if you are going through a divorce:
1. Don’t assume that your children feel the way you do about your spouse.
They have a different experience of him or her than you do, and that is how it should be. Direct questions about your spouse should be directed to him or her.
2. Expect your kids to be upset.
You were their role model for how families operate, and now that’s gone. They may begin to question all their own assumptions about marriage, relationships and children. If you have kept your marital troubles to yourself – as you should – the children will be surprised and sad about the divorce. Allow them to have and process their own feelings in their own ways. If you’ve waited until the children leave home to divorce, don’t share that detail with your children. It causes unnecessary guilt.
3. Don’t ask the children to take sides.
It’s easy to want your children to listen to and fix your problems because they already know all the players. Children might be old enough to hear the details of your break-up, but that doesn’t mean that they want to or they should. Find someone else to listen to your rants or keep your secrets. Tell your children, “Your dad and I have agreed that we won’t say bad things about each other. Sometimes we will forget. When we do, we want you to correct us, because we don’t want to create an awkward situation.” They will appreciate this more than you know.
4. Think about the future.
Your kids still need you in some way. If they’re not married, they will want you both at their graduations, holidays, and weddings. If they have children of their own, they want you to be grandparents, even if you’re divorced. Handle yourself in a way that won’t force your children to choose between having their parents at the same place at the same time or having a happy celebration of some milestone. Also, think about your financial future. Adult children are busy designing their own lives, and supporting a parent generally is not part of that plan.
5. Treat your children with as much respect as you would offer your boss or pastor.
You wouldn’t take the person you’re having an affair with to a business dinner at your boss’ house or to the church picnic, would you? Then don’t introduce these new love interests to your children without their permission. And, do everyone a favor by keeping the relationship quiet until you know if it’s something that will last. Children and grandchildren often struggle with how to meet and relate to a parent’s new partner. Don’t make them do it again and again.
In short, adult children should be considered just as much as minor children when parents think about divorce. There is a healthy way to handle this transition and an unhealthy way. Choosing the healthy way may seem like more trouble at the time, but in the end your relationships with your children and grandchildren will be worth it.