News of a divorce from friends and family can come as a shock, but when this news comes from your adult child, it can create a very real sense of grief and loss. Depending on how open your adult child was about the state of their marriage, you may or may not have seen the news coming. If you were under the impression that your child’s marriage was healthy and happy, hearing the announcement of a separation, and therefor an inevitable change in family dynamics, can be difficult to cope with. It’s a sudden life change that you didn’t bring upon yourself and don’t personally have much say in. You will need to process what the aftermath of a dissolution will look like for your family: lifestyle changes for your adult child, the perceived loss or change in relationship of a son or daughter in-law who you may love, and a different dynamic at family gatherings while everyone adjusts.
So what can you do to ease the burdens of your adult child during such a tumultuous life change?
Offer Support- The most important thing you can do for your adult child as they navigate the choppy waters of divorce is to be an unconditional and unwavering source of support. Regardless of the circumstances or the decisions from either party that led to the divorce, let your child know that you are always in their court—this reassurance will allow them to focus on their divorce and not have to worry about other important family dynamics. If you’re someone who is inclined to state your opinion quickly, consider adopting a listening role first and foremost, and express your opinion at a later time, when it feels appropriate. For example, refrain from comments such as “you really should have listened to him/her more” or “what have you done to cause this problem?” before you have the opportunity to listen and understand the full story. By speaking out of context or without the correct information, these comments can easily make your adult child feel belittled and unsupported as they try to work through hardship.
Try to Stay Neutral- When you receive news of an impending divorce from your adult child, they’re likely working through very complex emotions—heartbreak, hurt, bitterness, sadness, and even residual love. While it’s one thing to offer your loyalty and support, it’s another to continually bash their spouse as a way of showing that you’re “on their side”. Ultimately, remaining a neutral territory that can be trusted to listen, empathize, and encourage the best outcome for everyone will create a safe space for your adult child. It’s important to remember that there’s likely a lot more to the marital relationship than you’re aware of, therefor you may not have the full picture of what happened, and how each party contributed to the failed marriage. Stating black and white opinions such as “she was always lazy and good for nothing”, or “I never liked him anyway and am all too happy to see him gone” are not helpful. Remember that considering or even finalizing a divorce does not ensure that your adult child will not rekindle that relationship, so refrain from stating damaging comments that could come back to hurt your relationship with your son or daughter in-law (especially if there are grandchildren involved).
Help with the Grandchildren- It can be really difficult for divorcing parents to work through feelings of guilt and concern as they uproot their children’s lives. As a grandparent, you have the ability to provide a sense of stability and consistency to your grandchildren, while serving as both a distraction and a trusted confidant for your grandchildren as they process and work through big changes. By babysitting, taking your grandchildren on fun adventures, face-timing, and sending them notes, you can help reduce your adult child’s stress by investing in their kids and bringing forth fun and encouragement into their lives.
Encourage Healthy Coping- While you may want to believe that you can be an unbiased confidant for your adult child, the truth is that you are likely to give advice in favor of a certain belief or loyalty that you hold. While this can help create a sense of support for your child, they may need an alternative source of support from someone who can help them work through their struggles in an unbiased manner. Encourage your child to seek professional counseling or therapy as needed.
It’s difficult watching your adult child walk through the heartbreak and stress associated with a divorce. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that your role in the situation is to be a supporter for your child as they navigate their new family dynamics. With your loyalty, neutral stance, involvement in your grandchildren’s lives and encouragement to get the professional help needed, you and your child will walk through this huge transition as a united familial front.