Countless studies have been conducted on the effects of failed marriages on young children and teenagers. Many books are available on the subject as well as articles and endless content found on the internet. But one area of divorce that has been ignored until recently concerns the grown-up children of parents who split up later in life along with the emotional toll and financial aspects.
While the total number of divorces in the US have either leveled out or even declined, demographic statistics show that people who are fifty years of age and older are divorcing at higher and higher rates. What is now called “gray divorce” is creating a segment of society who is having to come to terms with parents ending their marriage later in life and then having to deal with the associated issues. Until recently little concern was made for these grown-ups as many rationalized that adult children could handle such circumstances and many surmised that “at least they had their parents together while they were young”. But divorce can still have emotional effects on grown up children and force them to experience some financial consequences they never expected.
Gray parents are still parents which means there will be marriages, religious celebrations, graduations and holidays. Some long-standing family rituals may be forced to end when the parents split up. That can cause resentment or at least some yearning for the way things used to be. When grown-up children organize a family get-together they may have to referee between battling parents which causes stress during an otherwise happy occasion. Grown-up children often get stuck in the middle in other ways. They can become very uncomfortable with hearing one parent bad-mouth the other, or having to listen to the gory details of past infidelity or a new dating life. This can quickly become a slippery slope and kids should not allow themselves to act as pseudo-counselors. Gray parents should be encouraged to get a therapist or divorce coach to help transition from married life to single living. Grown-up children should not have to bear the burden of something that was not of their making.
There is typically the expectation that parents will grow old together and take care of one another. When older people split up, grown up children can feel responsible to help one parent or both. This can certainly have a financial dimension when two living quarters are needed when there used to be just one. A home may have to sold carrying the sentimental value of once being the family gathering place. And if a parent gets remarried, what was an expected inheritance could easily become the lawful estate of the new spouse.
Gray divorce can even play on people’s psyche. Some may question their own relationships and wonder if all marriages have an expiration date. Grown up children should be careful to keep from getting discouraged. They would be better off to study their parent’s problems and try to learn from them.
The psychology profession has begun to realize the needs of grown-ups who are experiencing their parent’s divorce. Many therapists have expanded their practice to treat this segment of the population that is growing with the increasing incidences of gray divorce. Anyone finding themselves in a similar situation should consider seeking the advice of a professional.