Many people assume that, by divorcing later in life they save their children from suffering, but sadly, that is not so. Just because the children are grown does not mean that they won’t be affected when mom and dad throw in the towel.
There are many issues that make a marital breakup more financially and personally difficult when someone reaches midlife. As a person ages, life and personal finances become more complicated. Most middle-aged couples own a house, one or two vehicles, and retirement accounts and pensions as well as a variety of debts — a mortgage, one or more car loans, various credit card bills, and maybe even student loans for their children.
Divorce over the age of 50 has its challenges that a younger couple may not encounter. A man and women married 20 to 30 or years become institutional. Family, friends, and neighbors, all know them as a couple. Becoming newly single and facing these friends as someone who is now uncoupled can be unsettling.
The newly uncouple now have to figure out how to be a single person again, no longer part of a couple. For two or three decades or more, they thought of themselves as married persons: a husband, a wife; with an intact family, now, all of that is gone. An entire identity has just vanished, and all that remains are the memories of earlier and more hopeful times.
Moreover, the former spouses have to deal with adult children, who often suffer profoundly when mom and dad part ways. Unlike young children, couples don’t concern themselves with the emotional, physical and financial toll of divorce on adult offspring.
Most adult children are shocked when they learn their parents are divorcing, even if the children knew their parents’ marriage had been headed for that way for some time. There is still a sense of loss for adult children when their parents divorce. Adult children often become cynical when their parents divorce after a long-term marriage. The adult child develops problems with trust and many become angry. They lose their faith in marriage, and in their parents. The sense of family is now lost and the adult child finds him or herself questioning whether their entire past was a lie. When your parents use derogatory ways to describe the marriage such as I’ve wasted all these years of my life or I never should have married that man (or woman), the adult child then questions the reality of his or her life. Angry parents can thoughtlessly poison memories of better times for the adult child.
The effects on adult children of divorce are numerous including a preoccupation with declining health issues or even death. The adult child of divorce may resent his or her parents, feeling abandoned and betrayed. The effects are just as traumatic on adult children as younger children.
Divorcing seniors can reduce the impact of divorce on adult children in a number of ways.
Adult children are still children born of a marriage between the parents and may have strong feelings and emotions about the collapse of the marriage. They need to grieve because the divorce is their loss too. As with young children, the adult child should not be expected to take sides of one parent over the other.
Breaking the news of an impending divorce to children is particularly unnerving, both for parents and children. Parent should tell the children respectfully and with as much care as if the child were a minor.
Parents should also remember, the child is still their child, not a therapist or friend, someone they can (or even should) confide in. The adult child is not a confidante. When people split they need to talk. A lot. Convincing the adult child who is right or who is wrong is not up to the child to discern. It is inappropriate to put the child in the middle no matter whether the child is a minor or adult. This can become a swamp of unsought intimacy. The boundaries of appropriate conversation between parent and child collapse when parents run down one other with intimate details of a failed marriage. The lurid details of why a marriage failed are not for a child’s ears. Children are not caretakers of the parent going through divorce.