Grey Divorce When Your Children Are Grown: Five Important Considerations

Couples often stay together for the sake of the children. But what happens when you divorce after your kids are grown — with children of their own?  According to therapist and author Bruce Fredenburg, when parents divorce, even fully grown adult children often go through major emotional turmoil.

“Younger children see that life in the home is changing,” Fredenburg says. “But for adults, they view it as a disintegration of their family’s history.”

Even when they believe the break up is “for the best,” adult children of divorce still report feeling the pangs of loss. “Our identity comes from our family of origin,” Fredenburg says. “Some start to question their own relationship and their ability to sustain a marriage.”

Divorcing in your golden years can be particularly stressful due to the economic and social changes. And older divorcees may not recognize that their adult children are having a tough time, too.  Families often find themselves torn by triangulation as grown children take sides furthering the family’s schism.

In his recently published book, Home Will Never be the Same Again, Fredenburg discusses the ways that older parents and their grown-up children can sort through the emotional landmines and approach change in a healthy manner. If you (or your parents) are divorcing later in life, here are five key considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Fredenburg recommends a family-focused, collaborative approach to mitigate unnecessary unpleasantness. If litigation is involved, there can be more damage as people could end up taking sides.
  2. Adult children may need to initiate open communication and healing. Fredenburg finds this to be particularly important among adult children who have kids of their own who want to continue family traditions and gatherings.
  3. Prior to any family event where both newly divorced parents will be present, establish a clear understanding of boundaries. If adult children take sides, or one parent is angry, a family celebration can easily turn into a trauma — and take the focus away from the real reason for the gathering.
  4. When possible, divorcing parents should stay on the same page in the way they communicate about how the divorce will impact inheritances and trust funds. If one parent discloses sensitive information without the other’s consent, it could further damage family relations. Consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in estate law to guide you through these sensitive issues.
  5. And last but not least, proactively seek family counseling to discuss how your extended family will move forward and keep communication channels open as your family continues to grow and change.

Divorce at any time in life can be stressful. It’s important for adult children to remember that mom and dad may have been unhappy for years before making the decision to split. Even though your family gatherings may look different, demonstrating compassion and empathy for each other can help parents, children — and grandchildren — get through the difficult initial stages and onto living happier, healthier lives.