It’s one of life’s cruel twists – divorce. And it can even ache more when you are outside the relationship, looking in and feeling helpless. But does mean sometimes, as parents, we might be sticking our nose where it doesn’t belong?
My own stepmother was absolutely devastated when my stepsister filed from divorce from her husband last year. She was inconsolable, and I don’t mean my sister. My stepmother would cry down the phone to Marie, begging her to take back Steven, telling her she’d never find anyone better and that she had lost her chance to have children. One would have thought that she was Steven’s birth mother. She would also ring Steven and tell him she was so upset about it and he could still visit. But is that the instinct we have when we feel like we’re losing and grieving for a family member? Do we say irrational things when we don’t look at the bigger picture, i.e. that our children can make this decision for themselves without our input?
I’ve also seen the awful and sad divorces throughout my friendship groups and family – the ones with bitter custody battles, the ones where the partner cheats, and the ones with domestic abuse. It is an emotional rollercoaster for a parent who watches their child go through that. You can’t think straight.
It can also be hard to reconcile that your adult child is of the age where they can be divorced and can make that decision. You go on holidays more and are loving retirement, so you don’t have all the time in the world to know every detail of their relationship. So when you hear there’s marriage troubles, you instantly think it cannot be and that everything will be okay. Do we need to take a step back before we intervene?
On the flip side, some parents can be embarrassed and reluctant to reveal to their friends that their children are divorcing and in the middle of a relationship breakdown. It can bring shame, sadness and hurt to everyone involved so we can just switch off. We worry silently about finances and question our grandchildren’s wellbeing – so where is the point where we need to stop?
How should you deal with a divorce that isn’t yours?
1. Allow yourself to grieve
If the divorce was amicable and was a fairly straightforward ‘we’re not in love anymore’, then you will most definitely feel the loss of your son or daughter-in-law. There’ll be shock and denial, but remember it’s healthy to mourn. You can always maintain contact yourself, as long as it doesn’t upset your own child or go against their wishes.
2. Don’t act irrationally
Think before you say anything to either your own child or divorced son or daughter-in-law. When you’re upset, it’s easy to put your foot in your mouth and jump to conclusions. Never ever offer suggestions on why the relationship broke down, or say things like ‘I knew this would happen’ or ‘I never liked him/her anyway’, even if you feel it will help. It can hurt for the divorcing child to hear their parents judge them or doubt their ability to make decisions for their happiness.
3. Try not to control the crisis or intervene
It’s almost always best to let the divorcing couple sort out their own issues first before making the steps to intervene. If you are asked to have a say, then do so, but otherwise, kindly step back and just be there for them and your grandchildren.
4. Support, stabilise and sympathise
After a divorce, your adult child will most likely be feeling really hurt and down. They might turn to you for support, so offer it to them. Stabilise their life and don’t let them be by themselves or wallow, but also don’t make them do anything they don’t want to do. Also, no one wants to hear that their spouse was a lazy, no-good waste – instead try to tell them that they did their best to make it work and remind them of the positives in their life.
5. Tend to your grandchildren
If you have grandchildren involved in the divorce of their parents, then it’s important to remind them they have a larger family network and they are not being abandoned. Children can be deeply affected by divorce, even if they don’t show it. Try to take their mind off mum and dad.
Have your children divorced? How did you deal with it? What was the result? Tell us below.