Parents Need Their Own Strategy When an Offspring’s Marriage Fails
by Michael Heath
Whether a son or daughter is in their early years or has entered adulthood, parents instinctively want what is best for them. An adult child experiencing a marital breakup is going through an emotional time. Feelings of anger and loss can ripple through families and close friends. The moms and dads of those faced with the life-changing event of divorce need to be supportive while having some plan of action.
You Cannot Change the Past
Adult children make decisions that parents may disagree with. This may include whom their kids choose to marry. If the marriage falls apart there is little good that can come from berating them about their selection of a life partner. They are hurting enough as it is; rehashing the past is counterproductive. Bad-mouthing a future ex-in-law can have long range effects if the remarks get back to them. Remember that if grandchildren are involved there will still be a family – albeit a transformed one – which means future gatherings for graduations, weddings, births, etc. A peaceful ending to a marriage is far better than an acrimonious one.
Offer the Correct Support
Let your child know you are there for them. It is critical to be supportive yet not overbearing. You may have a had a wonderful relationship with their spouse, but it is important to be loyal to your own flesh and blood. They need that. Be the shoulder to cry on while being a good listener. Learn about the divorce process so that discussions are productive. Become more well-versed in the alternatives to divorce litigation that may save the couple much money and unnecessary acrimony. It is important to offer advice only with the right knowledge. It is much better to suggest they ask their mediator or lawyer a certain question than to answer it without sufficient background. This can be especially true when the breakup takes a significant emotional toll on a son or daughter’s psyche. A suggestion to seek out professional help with a trained and unbiased therapist may be the best advice given.
Let Them Tell It
The details of a divorce are a private matter. Let them tell you only what they want. Prying for more information can be hurtful. This may be your child, but he or she is an adult. It is their divorce and no one else’s. It is essential to be careful with whom confidences are shared. Information should be carefully guarded. Again, it is their divorce and their story to tell. If they want the particulars (or even the breakup itself) to be spread to friends and relatives, let them do it. No good ever comes from unrestrained gossip.
Being There for the Grandkids
Offering to occasionally watch the grandchildren will give parents a break. The grandkids will need their own emotional support and will often seek it from the grandparents. Getting together can be very beneficial. However, it is very important to refrain from making any disparaging comments about either parent. Saying bad things may be tempting, even justified. Grandparents need to be cognizant that the subject of such remarks is still the grandchild’s parent. They will not want to hear defamatory comments about either mom or dad. Doing so could even backfire and lead to resentment.
Just as important is to refrain from pumping the grandkids for information. Doing so is only putting them in an uncomfortable position. They likely have an allegiance to both parents. If you feel you need to know something, ask your adult child. And even then, do so with discretion.
Provide Clear Communication When Money Is Exchanged
Some parents may feel compelled to provide money for legal fees or other needs to help their adult child get through the breakup. Make it clear what is a gift and what is a loan. This may even require a written promissory note saving much heartache down the road.
Divorce is a tragedy. The parents of those experiencing a failing marriage can step in with emotional support, assist with grandchildren and even provide financial help. A bit of knowledge prior to getting into the familial situation will aide in making the right decisions.