CJ Liu interviews Carol Hughes, PhD about her book, “Home will Never be the Same: A Guide for Adult Children of Gray Divorce.” Gray divorces are divorces for adults 50 and older. These types of divorces have doubled, and for people over 65 divorces have tripled. These divorces happen starting during empty nest. Children effected are those who are aged 30-35 and in their careers, middle aged adults with their own children, and those sandwich adults who are taking care of their parents and kids.
While there is a lot of care and attention given to divorces when the children are younger, adult children of divorce parents are often dismissed. Parents delay their separation because they are waiting for their kids to reach adulthood, when it is presumed that they can handle it. Dr. Hughes explains that adult children are impacted in a different way.
Adult children are generally in shock and feel disorientated. Adult children are disillusioned and unclear how to gauge the “realness” of their former life as a family unit. Sometimes kids have known all along that something was not right and were just waiting for the parents to divorce. Other times, the foundation of the family and vision of family that includes traditions, family get-togethers, grandparents, etc. are now disappearing and can rock the adult child’s world.
Sometimes a spouse has an affair, and there is a sense of regret that they should have handled the situation better. There are several scenarios that Carol outlines in the interview.
One parent may feel as shocked and disillusioned as the child. This parent may be seeking solace from their child. Dr. Hughes explains that it’s unfair to burden a child with having to be a confidant, therapist, and best friend.
What do you communicate with your child about your marriage? Carol shares that there is a split 50/50 on the best approach. During the interview, she shares the two most common approaches and provides specific language to use on how you handle questions from your adult children. The main goal is to not have the child be burdened with your problems in addition to their own problems. She asks parents to get the help they need and to not rely on their children to be their allies. Similarly, children should have the right to ask you to get help and not rely on them to solve your issues. Children want to love both parents and should be unburdened.
Carol explains that holidays can be a real challenge for recently divorced parents. This is further complicated when there is remarriage. As in the first segment, she explains the importance of boundaries during this time. It’s common for children to feel isolated and abandoned during these times.
If your partner remarries your adult child’s history teacher, your child may not want to be with the whole family during the holidays. This is further complicated when there is a blended family, where each parent has several kids. While parents may want one big happy family, the adult children did not grow up together and may not want to connect in this way. Dr. Hughes shares specific language you can tell your parents if you feel this way.
The adult child wants their parents to be happy, but doesn’t want to feel guilty if they don’t want to attend family events in a blended fashion. Dr. Hughes explains that it’s important for parents and children to realize it’s about compromise and flexibility. Try not to approach it as “it’s my way or the highway.”
On a happy note, she explains that after 5 years most families figure out these hot spots and how to navigate them.
Dr. Hughes shares how children handle family get-togethers by trading off holidays. This is often done as they would in a family parenting plan done for younger children. She shares how complicated this can get if a parent is divorced twice.
Another sticky area is finances. Specifically, how do you handle paying for college if parents have different values. One parent may want the child to pay for part of college, while the other believes that the child should be debt free. Dr. Hughes advises the importance of the parents coming up with one unified front on these matters for their blended family.
Last, Dr. Hughes explains the importance of meeting with an Estate Attorney to figure out inheritances.