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How to Talk to Your Adult Children After Divorce

by Freddie Silver

Divorce among seniors is becoming increasingly common. As longevity increases, some mature couples realize they're dissatisfied with their marriage and no longer want to remain tied down for many more years. Young divorcing couples usually expect their small children suffer as a result of the marital break-down, but older couples don't usually anticipate the emotional trauma their grown children face. These adult children might resent one or both parents, so it's important to keep the lines of communication open to help maintain a healthy relationship after the divorce.

Timing

Choose an appropriate time and place to tell your adult children you're divorcing. Erica Manfred, author of, "He's History You're Not: Surviving Divorce After Forty," suggests in her article, "How to Break It to the (Grown) Kids," your approach should not be different from how you'd tell young children. It's best if both parents can be together when they break the news. Arrange a face-to-face meeting and be as forthright as possible. Give your children the time and opportunity to process the news and honestly address any questions they might have.

Understanding Their Feelings

Appreciate the loss your children feel and try to understand their point of view. It might take at least a year, if not more, for the shock to wear off. Selling the family home is likely to devastate them. There might be resentment around financial matters. Your kids might feel you're spending money frivolously and worry about losing their inheritance or having you become dependent on them. Adult children who put their parents on a pedestal need time to adjust to seeing their parents' frailties. Be aware of any problems your children might be facing. Don't get so focused on your life that you forget how to be there for them.

Choosing Sides

Don't force your grown children into taking sides. Regardless of which spouse caused the marital break-down, encouraging children to choose sides is going to cause them pain. Most kids love both parents and want to maintain a good relationship with both. Don't say disparaging things about your ex-spouse. Don't ask them to give messages from you to your ex. Don't interrogate them about a new partner that might be involved. Shield your kids from your conflict as much as you would if they were little.

Maintaining Boundaries

Resist the temptation to rely on your children for practical or emotional support. Adult children resent parents who confide things they'd rather not know. Your kids don't want to hear how bad your marriage was. You and your child might both be dating now, but this doesn't make you equals. Focus on preserving your role as the parent and don't treat your grown child as a peer. Don't share information about your sex life. Try to keep your relationship with your kids the same as it used to be before the divorce. Reassure them your love for them remains unchanged.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

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