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by Michael Heath

Many studies have been conducted on the effects of failed marriages on young children and teenagers. Whole books are available on the subject as well as articles and endless content found on the internet. One area of divorce that has been ignored until recently concerns the effects on grown-up children whose parents split up later in life.

Grown Children Feel the Aftermath of Gray Divorce

While the total number of divorces in the US has slowly declined since the late ‘70s, one demographic where divorce filings have spiked is with couples where the spouses are fifty years of age and older. What is commonly known as gray divorce is creating a segment of society made up of adult children who must come to terms with parents ending their marriage at an advanced age. Until recently, little concern was made for these adults as many rationalized that grown children could handle such circumstances. It was concluded by some that “at least their parents were together while the kids were young.” But divorce can still have emotional effects on grown children and even have financial consequences.

No matter the age, when mom and dad divorce the family dynamics are impacted. Even though there will continue to be weddings, births, religious celebrations, graduations and holiday gatherings, some long-standing family rituals may be forced to end. That can cause resentment or at least some yearning for the way things used to be. When grown children organize a family get-together, they may be forced to referee between battling parents, leading to stress in what should otherwise be a happy occasion. Adult children often get stuck in the middle in other ways. They can become uncomfortable hearing one parent badmouth 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. It is better that gray parents be encouraged to seek out a therapist or divorce coach to help transition from married life to single living. Adult children should not have to bear the full 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, adult children can feel responsible for helping one parent or both. The need for two living quarters when there used to be just one can certainly have a financial dimension. A home may have to be sold, taking with it the sentimental value of once being the family gathering place. And if a parent remarries, what was an expected inheritance could easily become the lawful estate of the new spouse.

Doing Better Than Their Parents

Gray divorce can even play on people’s psyches. Some may question their own relationships and wonder if all marriages have an expiration date. Grown children should be careful to keep from getting discouraged. They would be better off to study their parents’ problems and learn from them.

 Adult Children Can Get Help

The psychology profession has begun to realize the needs of adults who are experiencing their parents’ divorce. Many therapists have expanded their practices to treat this growing segment of the population with the increasing incidences of gray divorce. Anyone finding themselves in a similar situation should consider seeking the advice of a professional.

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