How Midlife Divorce Affects Young Adult Kids

Late in life divorce

Divorce rates among older married couples nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008. With more women in the work force and people living longer than ever before, this late-in-life divorce phenomenon is not as surprising as it may seem. Many couples who married in the 1970's did so right out of college, and couples in their 50's and 60's who have been married for 30, 40 years or more may find that they have outgrown the marriage and each other.

"Among men who got married for the first time between 1970 and 1974, 89% were still married to the same wife on their fifth anniversary, 74% on their 10th anniversary and 65% on their 15th anniversary. By their 20th anniversary, 58% were married; by their 25th, 54% were." - Pew Research

Starting over again is perhaps the answer to their problems - but what about their young adult children? How are they affected by their parents divorce?

Who Gets Custody?

Young adults may find themselves in the awkward position of having to choose, on their own, where to spend holidays, birthdays and other special occasions. When parents divorce and their children are young, there are custody agreements to manage these situations - but with grown kids, it's often left to the adult children to decide when and where to spend time with each parent. If the divorce is contentious it can add an element of stress and anxiety to the situation, as young adults feel forced to take sides or make uncomfortable choices.

Adding to the complication is grandchildren. Celebrating with the family can become awkward if the divorced couple isn't able to spend time together - whatever the reason. Consider that it's not unheard of for young couples to both have divorced parents, which can increase the problems fourfold. It should not be the young adult's job to make the divorced parents comfortable, especially regarding grandchildren. The parents need to figure out how to comfortably spend time together at family gatherings if at all possible. Small children enjoy their grandparents, and grandparents adore their grandchildren. This should be the primary concern.

Am I Headed for Divorce? 

It's not surprising that many young adults dealing with their parents divorce will begin to wonder if they will be able to have a successful long term relationship. Even if the young adult was aware of discord between them, there's still something unsettling about watching your middle-aged parents divorce and start new lives. It's important for young adults to understand that just because their parents marriage didn't last doesn't mean there weren't good years (assuming this is true). Making a marriage last is challenging in the best of circumstances, and adult children who are in their 20's and even their 30's may not understand just how hard it can be sometimes to keep a marriage together.

When divorced parents begin dating other people it can bring up a whole slew of issues for adult children. Even if they have come to terms with the fact that their parents are no longer a couple, seeing them with someone new can be a jarring experience. Growing comfortable with a parent's new significant other can take time and patience on everyone's part. Add to the mix the possibility that the new partner has their own children and things become even more complicated. Parents need to develop relationships as single people, but be cautious about introducing a new partner to adult children before the relationship has reached a strong level of commitment. Though these are young adults, they are still children when it comes to their parents in many ways. Preserving the relationship with young adult children should be kept in mind when making choices as a newly single person.

Expect Some Anger

Whatever the events were that led up to the decision to end a marriage, parents need to be prepared for  adult children to feel angry, sad and disappointed. As mature as parents might hope the adult children would be about this difficult situation, remember that their lives are changing, too. No longer will there be a family home in the same way there has been all their lives - their parents will be living in two different places. If the parents decide to sell the home they have shared, that can bring up a whole different array of emotions. Letting adult children express themselves and share their feelings - even as the parents are wrestling with their own conflicted emotions - will ease the transition to being a child of divorce - no matter how old they are.