Contrary to popular belief, gray divorce among 50 or older has a significant emotional impact on adult children as much as it does on minors. Although adult children might have obtained the maturity to face such an upheaval in their family, they remain a vulnerable player in the equation.
Knowing how adult children take their parents’ failed marriage after years of being together can help families cope with the dramatic changes in roles and dynamics.
Adult children confront a range of emotions
Research shows that the early stages of parent-child relationships affect a child’s attachment behavior during adulthood.
Children with available and responsive parents growing up tend to be secure in their adult relationships. Conversely, children with absent and abusive parents become insecure about forming meaningful bonds and end up with dysfunctional adult relationships. Thus, divorce can generate mixed feelings among adult children.
They might feel guilty for leaving the marital nest and blame themselves for triggering the marriage’s collapse. They can also feel scared, confused, angry and anxious simultaneously, especially if they financially rely on their parents for their education and other needs.
For some adult children, they may have seen the divorce coming and feel relieved for the parent who wanted it for the longest time. This kind of reaction often happens when a parent is violent, neglectful or mentally ill.
Other cases see adult children stepping up as caretakers for both of their aging parents. On the other hand, some completely detach and choose not to recognize their depressing situation.
Further, if the adult children already have their own families, it can be particularly burdensome to navigate their new responsibilities.
All emotions are valid
Gray divorce yields a stream of emotions for adult children. While unfamiliar, all these sentiments remain valid. Parents must avoid being oblivious to their adult children’s unique struggles. They must recognize how tough things are for their children, and make them feel heard or understood. Forming a support system, such as extended families, close friends and legal professionals, can help families endure the emotional fallout.