In life, no matter who you are, you sometimes are never prepared for the events life will throw your way. After 34 years of marriage, I never expected my parents to report the need for a divorce. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. Upon realizing my own reactions to such unsettling news, I came across the concept of The Grey Divorce which is a phenomenon of the baby boomer generation (population 50 and older) divorcing after living some 30+ years together. In the US, the divorce rate was reported to be declining for younger adults, however, among adults 50 and older the divorce rate has nearly doubled since 1990 ( Stepler, R. March 9, 2017).
Upon further research, I came to the realization that there is less research and fewer resources available for adult children of divorce. There seems to be a common theme, “You are an adult and have your own life; this should not impact you.” Regardless of our age, they are still our parents, and the decision of divorce does impact us in a way that is very different from younger children of divorce. Through this article, I hope to help you find ways to cope with the difficult news of your parent’s divorce, as well as shed light on some of the common misperceptions of how we as adult children should be handling our emotions.

Steps for Adult Children to Make it Through the Grey Divorce:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings no matter what they may be.

    The theme I mentioned above encourages adult children to hide their feelings if they are anything other than understanding and ‘okay’ with what is going on. Hiding our feelings is not helpful; it will lead to suppression and at some point or another those feelings will emerge and we will be left with a level of confusion. So this is me giving you the okay to experience any range of emotions you may feel with this new news you have been given. Journaling is an extremely helpful way to process your feelings as they come. The news of divorce after so many years is shocking, and thus creates a roller coaster of emotions. Write out what you are thinking/feeling as a way to gain better understanding as to what you are internally going through.

  2. Set firm boundaries.

    Boundary setting, in general, can be difficult with the people we love the most. But during a divorce, as an adult, you will be inclined to pick a side; as parents will be overly forthcoming with information as to what has led to the divorce. This can put you in a situation where you have to hear one parent bad mouth the other, learn of deceit in a relationship, and so forth. Know your limitations. What are you comfortable with? What are you not? It is not your responsibility to take on the burdens of information or responsibilities such as logistics that you do not feel comfortable with. Identify your limits, communicate them to your loved ones, and hold firm.

  3. Seek help for yourself.

    Most therapists work with adult clients who are experiencing this situation the way they would someone grieving the loss of a loved one. And to some extent you are. You are grieving the life that you have known for years. Things will be different, it will take time to adjust, it may hurt. But through time, you will overcome this situation and adapt to your new norm. Just because something is new, does not mean it is bad. Just different. A therapist can help you to find acceptance of this and work through the storm of emotions you may be experiencing along the way.

  4. Prioritize self-care.

    Something I recognize in my own grief, was the diminished time for self-care due to feeling as though I had to be the parent to my parents. Having young children of my own, a career, a husband, and now the burden of divorce; I slowly stopped making time for me. I was consumed with everyone’s needs but my own. Remember, you cannot help others if you are not well yourself.

    I often in session remind my clients that line you hear before your plane takes off, “Parents, remember to put on your oxygen mask before you help your children put on theirs.” Why is this important? Because if you aren’t taking care of you, you will be unable to care for those around you. So make time for you! Spend time with friends, go to the gym, engage in your hobbies, take a walk…your options are endless just make sure that YOU are the center of what you are engaging in.

  5. Be kind to yourself.

    Self-compassion is something many of us lack. When I ask my clients, “What would you tell your friend if they were in your situation?” they often tell me something very different than what they are actually telling themselves. We never know how we are going to handle a situation until we actually are in that situation. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself the time you need, the love you need, and the support you need. You deserve it just as much as anyone else.

Reference:
Stepler, Renee.  March 9, 2017, Led by Baby Boomers, Divorce Rates Climb for Americans 50+ Population).

About the Author

Dana Rivera

Dana Rivera, LCPC is a Therapist at our Edison Park location. Dana works with children, teens, and adults. Dana’s specialties include self-esteem and personal growth, behavior modification, and anxiety. If you are interested in working with Dana, send an email today!