As the parent of an adult child, you’ve seen your kid through so much. You’ve cheered their first steps, first days of school, first dates; comforted them through boo-boos, broken bones, broken hearts, meltdowns and milestones, victories and defeats; graduation, a wedding, perhaps the birth of grandchildren.
Even after our kids grow up, move out, and have a home and family, they never stop being our babies. We want the best things in life for them, and we would do anything to protect them from problems and pain.
So, when you find out your grown child is going through a divorce, you may feel a vast range of emotions—shock, grief, loss, confusion, worry, anger, and more. You may feel helpless and wonder what you can do to support them through this tough time, perhaps anxious that you’ll say or do the wrong thing or overstep your boundaries.
Here’s some good advice from experts on how to support your adult child through their divorce.
Be there. Right now, the most important thing you can offer is your unconditional love and emotional support. Let your son or daughter know how much you care and are there for them. The end of a marriage can trigger feelings of failure and defeat, lost hopes and dreams; reassure your child of their strength and ability to get through this and that you believe in them.
Listen. You’re a parent with lots of life experience, so while you may have advice and opinions, now is a time to listen—without judgment. There might be a lot you don’t know about the situation. Let your child know you’re open and available to talk to; they can tell you anything, they’re not alone, and you’re always in their corner. Remember, too, that there may be times they don’t want to talk, things they’re not ready to share—don’t push.
Offer practical help. The divorce process can be overwhelming—logistically, emotionally—and even more so if there are children to care for and your son or daughter is navigating co-parenting for the first time. Ask what you can do to ease some of the daily pressures: helping cart the kids around to playdates and sports practices, doing a grocery run, or cooking a meal sometimes. Maybe it’s taking the grandchildren for an overnight visit so the parent can have a much-needed night out with friends or a late sleep-in. Maybe your adult child needs a place to stay while the dust settles. Perhaps it’s walking the dog so your child can attend therapy. Just be open to what they most need.
Keep your own feelings separate. In addition to aching for your adult child who is suffering, you have your own sorrow, disappointment, and anxiety. You may feel drained, disoriented, and unsure of what the future will look like in your family. All these feelings are authentic and valid—but it’s essential to deal with them privately. Talk to your partner or a counselor. Don’t add grief and worry to your son or daughter’s burden.
Stay neutral. It’s normal to have your thoughts and emotions about the collapse of your child’s marriage, ideas about what went wrong, who did what to whom, or what could have been done better. Trying to make your adult child feel better or prove your loyalty by badmouthing the ex can be tempting. But you may not have all the information, and your child most likely has very complicated thoughts and emotions surrounding the split. Don’t make comments that could damage your relationship with your child, the ex, or the ex’s family. Especially if there’s a co-parenting agreement, the in-laws may continue to be in your life long after the marriage ends. Create a safe, compassionate, trustworthy, non-judgmental space. Be intentional about contributing to harmony, not toxicity.
Don’t try to fix or control. It’s challenging to let our children—at any age—face hardship and heartache and work through it themselves. As the parent of a grown-up, it’s not easy to know where you fit into their life in tough times. You can offer love, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, helping hands—but you can’t make the divorce go away, you can’t do it for them, and ultimately, you have very little control over the outcome. You may never know the whole story. Let go of what you can’t change, respect boundaries, and try to accept things as they are so you can help your beloved child begin to focus on the future.
Encourage them to seek professional help. You can be a safe harbor and a bolster for your daughter or son, but you can’t be everything they need during a divorce, and you’re unlikely to be truly unbiased. They will likely benefit from a therapist, divorce coach, financial advisor, etc., and seeking qualified legal help as early as possible is crucial.
The veteran family attorneys at SFLG are experienced in divorce and custody proceedings. Our skilled and passionate team is devoted to helping you find the smoothest path through your dissolution toward a favorable outcome so you can focus on your family and the future.
By Debra Schoenberg