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Adult children often struggle to cope with divorce

Research shows that, between 1990 and 2008, divorce rates among couples age 50 and older doubled. While much has been written about how so-called gray divorcees can cope with the financial and emotional fallout of a late-life divorce, the effects of gray divorce on adult children are often disregarded. In many cases, however, adult children are deeply impacted by their parents' divorce which may cause an individual to both internalize and project negative emotions and thoughts.

The impending divorce of one's parents may cause adult children to question their childhood as well as their future. An adult child may feel guilty and wonder whether parents only stayed together for his or her benefit. Likewise, an adult may question their own marriage and develop fears that they too are destined for divorce.

At any age, learning that one's parents are no longer in love and plan to divorce can be devastating. For an adult, however, news of a parents' divorce can be particularly difficult to grasp or understand as it raises many questions about the pasts and futures of both parents and oneself. In some cases, a parent may turn to an adult child for support or comfort. It's not fair or appropriate, however, for a parent to expect a grown child to act as a confidant or counselor.

As difficult as it can be, it's important for grown children who are impacted by their parents' divorce to set healthy boundaries. It's also best not to take sides or allow a parent to make negative or disparaging comments about one's mother or father.

Navigating through the emotional and psychological issues that may arise in the wake of a parents' divorce may be challenging. However, adult children should be comforted by the fact that they are adults and therefore independent of their parents and ultimately not responsible for their parents’ happiness.

Source: The Chicago Tribune, "Grieving the gray divorce,"  Emily Harris, March 18, 2014

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