Divorce Through the Ages – Checking in With Older Children

When parents decide to get divorced, the process is taxing not only on oneself, but also on young and adult children. Many know that younger children require more active parenting styles, which means a divorce could affect these children more. However, adult children are also impacted. Divorcing parents are encouraged to learn how to communicate with children involved in a divorce. Both young and adult children will need help in navigating and coping with these familial changes.

Taking Responsibility

When parents announce a divorce to children, no child must be at fault. Children both young and old often feel guilty for “causing” the divorce, but sometimes parents won’t be aware of these feelings with adult children. It’s common for adult children to think parents only stayed married for the children’s sake, which influences feelings of guilt for negatively impacting one or both parents’ happiness. It’s crucial that divorcing parents take time to talk with children, no matter the age. Parents must reassure the children, regardless of age, that the divorce is entirely the parent’s decision.

Divorce Affects Everyone

It’s not uncommon for divorcing parents to get caught up in emotions as the upcoming lifestyle change is unfamiliar. However, children involved in a divorce are likely to be emotional too. There are often many moving parts to any divorce, but parents must check in with older children to verify the situation is being processed correctly. Children will likely have questions regarding the familial change, such as where each parent will live, and more.  If parents cannot connect with a child regarding divorce,  it may be time to consider seeking guidance from a therapist who  specializes in helping children going through a divorce.

Ex-Spouses Are Encouraged to Get Along

As children in any family grow older, direct care may not be as large of a focus. However,  it’s important to recognize that significant familial events will continue to occur, such as graduations, funerals, weddings, and even family reunions. Divorce affects children of any age, making it vital that ex-spouses identify ways in which healthy relationships can be developed with each other, whether through mediation, therapy, or other alternatives. Ensuring that the relationship between ex-spouses is civil and forthcoming will make these family events  easier and healthier for all involved parties.

Don’t Turn to Children for Emotional Support

Many parents are aware that a divorce is between involved spouses and that children should not be brought into the equation – especially when it comes to how one processes emotions. Often, divorcing spouses avoid displaying emotional episodes  to younger children. Whereas with older children, it may be more tempting to vocalize frustrations with the divorce process as parents may believe that adult children are old enough to deal with the reality of divorce. Learning one’s parents have decided to get a divorce is emotionally taxing on a child, no matter the age. Parents are encouraged to discuss divorce in broad terms but avoid in-depth detail as it will put more stress on the child, regardless of their age, and increase feelings of guilt or blame.

Avoid Forcing Anyone to Take Sides

In addition to not sharing emotions with children around a parents’ divorce, spouses are encouraged to avoid alienating a child from one or both parents. Any negative issues or discussions between divorcing spouses shouldn’t be shared in detail with the children. These instances can encourage feelings of hate toward one or both parents and even other children in the family. Children shouldn’t be forced to take sides in divorce, because children will thrive off having healthy relationships with both parents. It’s highly recommended for ex-spouses to avoid oversharing personal information and negatively painting a picture of the other party with the children. Children deserve to have a positive and healthy relationship with each parent, and divorcing spouses must recognize this importance.

Acknowledge Moving and Change

While it may seem more common for younger children to struggle over the possibility of no longer living in a familiar home, it affects older children just as much. Divorcing parents usually attempt to keep a home for the kids, but if children are already out of the house, spouses may consider selling the family home. Choosing to sell the family home can be a sensitive topic for older children as this is where one grew up and where many memories occurred. Often, older children feel more connected to the family home – especially when familiar normalcy is now up for grabs. Regardless of the decision about a family home, adult children should be given time to process emotions. Parents are encouraged to be honest about what drives the decision, whether that be finances, location, or another critical factor. Dividing belongings between each child and the new residences is also a healthy way to ease into this new way of living while preserving memories.

Discuss the Meaning of Healthy Relationships

Children learn about healthy relationships from growing up with active parental figures, and if divorcing parents have seemed happy, the news of a divorce may come as a significant surprise. Not only are feelings of guilt and blame common for children involved in a divorce, but a child may also have a change of view on marriage and relationships. It’s not unusual for adult children to question one’s ability to maintain long term relationships because of witnessing a marriage falling apart after many years. Adult children may also become apprehensive toward becoming parents, so future children won’t experience the same feelings and emotions. Voicing the importance of and assessing how older children are approaching relationships is extremely important as therapy may be necessary to navigate questions.

What About the Future?

It’s important to remember that divorce will rewrite a family’s history as new memories and family traditions will be developed. Adult children may find this particularly difficult as everything once known occurred in a parental relationship that didn’t work. Parents should provide reassurance that the family life the adult child knew was healthy and happy. Divorcing spouses are also encouraged to plan financially and for major holidays. If possible, it may be beneficial to choose to gather as a family for holidays immediately following a divorce to maintain normalcy for the children. Finances are also vital for each spouse as expendable funds will also impact young and adult children. 

Every Child Must Be Accounted For

While managing divorce with young or adult children may differ, many basic principles remain the same. Divorcing parents are encouraged to keep each child’s best needs and interests in mind. Detailed information and emotions shouldn’t be shared with children as this can negatively impact healthy relationships with either parent. No matter the age, children will need time to adjust to this change just as ex-spouses do. Parents must also recognize that it’s not uncommon for children to go through a grieving process. Divorce is difficult, and becoming familiar with practical ways to manage this new way of life will make it easier for the children.

This article contains general legal information and does not provide legal advice. For legal advice, please contact M. Sue Wilson Law Offices directly.