The term “gray divorce” has caught on as a way to refer to the phenomenon of couples deciding to go their separate ways in their senior years. This is something we face in our Florida family law office on a regular basis due to the popularity of the Sunshine State as a top retirement destination.
This trend affects not only the divorcing spouses, but also their families. Specifically, adult children of such unions may be blindsided by the decision or there might even be feelings of relief or guilt, depending on the circumstances.
How can parents, other family members and friends support adult children in this situation? It helps to recognize some of the possible issues these adult kids may face.
Stiff upper lip?
A perception sometimes exists that because these children are adults, parental divorce should not be as hard as it would have been if they were still minors. But, significant emotional distress and concern can still manifest, according to Florida Today, noting that these adult children may hesitate seeking support.
They should be encouraged to talk to friends and family about their feelings or if that is too close to home or too much for the listeners, to seek professional therapy. The feelings are real and the family dynamics complex.
Talking to their own parents about the divorce is a tricky matter. Because the children are adults, parents may feel more comfortable talking to them about the breakdown of the marital relationship, but it may be distressing for the adult kids to hear. The divorcing parent may want to carefully consider the situation before discussing such details. Maybe the parent would be better to seek therapy instead of leaning on the children for support.
Another issue for adult kids is the sudden loss of family holidays and traditions. There can be feelings of loss and grief around changes in family traditions, especially if there are grandchildren (children of these adult children) involved. Divorcing parents and extended family can be proactive about coming up with new traditions before the adult children experience the void without the old ones.
Concern for safety
Another issue raised in the Florida Today article is that the adult child may suddenly worry about parental health and vulnerability if a parent is living alone unexpectedly, where before the other spouse was present to keep an eye out for problems. Will the parent need to move in with the adult child? Will the parent have enough money for care as a single person?
The divorcing parent can take concrete steps to put into place a new safety net. For example, if there are health concerns, perhaps the parent could hire a caregiver to look in on the parent newly living alone. If needed, the parent could seek a complete physical and mental assessment from a doctor to understand areas of concern and plan for support.
In our next post, we will talk more about issues faced by adult children of divorce.