Talking to Your Grown Children About Divorce
The Cyrus family has been no stranger to the spotlight. From Billy Ray’s fame as a country icon and more recently Tish and Billy Ray’s severe case of “are they or aren’t they” getting a divorce, being in relationship limbo is confusing to adults and can wreak havoc on children too. (Is it just coincidence that daughter Miley has evolved from innocent teen idol to scantily-clad rock star?)
Research suggests that problematic parent-child relationships associated with divorce persists throughout adult life, and that there can be long-term effects on their ability to find love as adults. As a result, it’s of the utmost importance that parents carefully handle their relationship problems when there are kids (even adult kids) in the picture — so their children can be poised to have the best chance possible to find love. Handling your breakup amicably will help send a positive message to your adult children about love in general.
1. Talk to the kids together if you can. Having your adult children lean on each other for support is very important. If you can get your kids together to break the news, it can be a much healthier conversation as they’ll feel they have some backup in the emotional fallout that might follow. Talking to them separately can cause them to feel ostracized, and they could inadvertently think that somehow they’re at fault for the breakup.
If your children are geographically dispersed, consider taking extra time to organize a group Skype chat or use another technology such as Google+ Hangout to create a family dynamic even when distance prevents having a face-to-face group conversation.
2. DON’T tell them what’s happening over email, text, or leave the “we need to talk” voicemail. Conveying a life-changing decision such as divorce in an indirect medium like email, text or voicemail isn’t an ideal way to communicate with your grown children. Often there’s a tendency to react rather than respond when one parent wants to share the news immediately.
The rush of cortisol that’s produced during stress can elevate anxiety and create the need for a quick release via immediate feedback. Sending that quick text — “Your father is leaving me” — may seem right in the moment; but it’s critical to remember that your daughter is not your best friend, but is, in fact, your daughter. In addition, sending out a quick SOS most likely won’t convey the appropriate content and/or tone, which can be interpreted as hurtful or even shocking.
Finally, using these types of technologies to communicate can provide opportunities for misinterpretation and for the receiver to make assumptions that simply aren’t true. Take a breath and process your feelings independently. Create a strategic plan with your ex, if possible.
3. Don’t blame your partner. Even though you may think your kids are adults (or mature) and can handle whatever it is you’re going to say, don’t blame your former partner. Keeping in mind that you’re still a parent, save the “bad talking” for a therapist or friend. Your partner is also a parent to your kids, and it’s important to preserve the theme of keeping family members blameless.
Although it’s tempting to overshare with grown children, just don’t. Use phrases such as “we decided” or “we have.” Remind your children that your ex is a good person and father (whether you really believe he is or not) but simply not a good partner for you now. Keep it neutral at all times.
4. Let them know the things that will and will not stay the same. Will you be selling your family home? Let them know. If you’re financially supporting them in any way, will that change? Make sure they’re aware of anything that will affect them, such as if one parent is moving out of the city or if you’ll be changing how much of their student loans you can help with. Keeping your kids in the loop will help ensure they’re not surprised by anything to come, and it will also help them feel like they’re still a part of your plan.
5. Check in with them. You may need to repeat what you said, as your children may not have absorbed it the first time. Ask them how they’re feeling. Don’t forget that even though they’re adults, they’re still your children and you’re still their parent. Let them know you’re there to support them.
6. Don’t expect them to be happy for you. Although it’s the best decision for you to get a divorce, don’t expect your children to be jumping for joy that you made this choice. Down the road they may see that it was the best thing for all of you; but at the time of impact, they’re probably going to having some fairly strong emotions (and not of the happy variety). Just make sure to set realistic expectations for how your kids are going to feel.
Telling your grown children about your divorce is similar to telling young children about it. Above all, remember that you’re still a parent and they’re still your children. You’re in this experience together; so by communicating directly and openly while having realistic expectations, you can help set in place a positive belief system regarding their ability to have and sustain healthy relationships.
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