Guest blogger, Taryn Kelley is an expert of her own experiences and the daughter of divorced parents who split up in her early adulthood. Divorce and separation is complicated at every stage, and Taryn brings new perspective to the conversation.
One night my parents sat me down and told me that my mother was moving out. I was 19, and let me tell you, it was a punch in the gut. I was in college and living on my own with a full life, but in that moment I felt as though I was five again. My parents had always been an unshakeable unit, a united team of nearly perfect parenting that I thought would never change. But that night I felt my world crash around me. As an adult child of divorced parents I understood the implications and emotional distress that we were all going through, and it was a pain more acute than can be described. But, I’m not here to make anyone feel worse, I’m here to tell you that everything will be OK.
Now, when I say it will be OK, I in no way want to make it sound easy. I was hurt and mad as hell and my anger shifted from one parent to the other at a moment’s notice. Anger is one thing to keep in mind when you divorce and have an adult child; losing the comfort that comes with married parents is jarring for anyone regardless of age. You’ve got to give your child space, as much of it as they need. Healing will come, but not with someone in their face all the time.
I had always had a great relationship with my mother, but since she was the one that moved out she had to deal with the brunt of my anger. I was curt and snide in almost every interaction, other than the time I met her new kittens, but that is self explanatory, for a few years. I saw the antidepressants on my father’s counter, I saw the toll living alone in the house they had built together took on him. His sadness was palpable while hers was farther away. I know on more than one occasion I hurt my mother with things I said, and I regret that, but she bore it with grace and has never held it against me. She let me work through, it gave me space, and let me call her when I felt I could. She has, in the decade since, become one of my best friends.
You will, of course, be sad and angry, but don’t make that your child’s problem. Not too long after my parents divorced I sat down with both of them and informed them, in no uncertain terms though with a waver in my voice, that I would not listen to one speak poorly of the other. If that happened I would promptly get up and leave the room, the dinner or the gathering. Your child will be going through enough of their own emotions and they will not need to hear you talk badly of your ex. This will at best stress them out more and at worse it will lose you your child. You may not love your ex, but your kids do.
On the topic of stressing your adult child out, keep in mind they have lives as well; jobs, college, families of their own. They are not the baby you raised anymore, they are adults out in the world and deserve to be respected. My parents backed off, let me make some reactionary mistakes while still making sure I knew that they fully supported me. I had a bad living situation with a couple friends my parents didn’t approve of and when that went south you’d better believe my parents were there with both vehicles to move me out in an hour and a half even though they weren’t speaking at the time.
Now, while you may have to watch your adult child make some mistakes, they should not have to watch you make many. Do not drag them to meet everyone you’ve been on more than two dates with, do not expect them to like any girlfriend or boyfriend you have, and seriously, don’t make them feel bad for being standoffish. This is perhaps the hardest part of the process for everyone and trying to force a relationship between your new significant other and your adult child is a mistake. I have been lucky. My parent’s new partners have all been lovely, but it wasn’t easy or comfortable to get to know them and at times I just didn’t want them around. Holidays were especially bad, even if their partners gave really good gifts.
I’m ten years past that fateful night and while the pain isn’t gone (it never will be entirely). I have wonderful and meaningful relationships with both of my parents. I have real adult relationships with them, and that is the best thing to come out of everything. We see each other in a way we may never have without the divorce, as full and independent adult people. If you are divorcing and have an adult child life will never be the same. But maybe that’s OK because you get a chance to really know your child as an adult.