When a couple decides to end their marriage, the first thought is often about the effect of divorce on small children, but the growing trend of baby boomers divorcing late in life is shifting the focus to their adult children. Known as gray divorce, people calling it quits in their 50s and 60s usually have grown children and grandchildren. As baby boomers divorce at higher rates than the rest of the population, the toll it takes on their adult children is only beginning to become evident.
Divorcing couples with young children will often go to great lengths to protect their emotional state by shielding them from the details about how and why the marriage is dissolving. However, this differs for adult children. Parents often turn to their grown children for support and the opportunity to vent. Adult children may prefer not to offer the kind of emotional support that a therapist would provide.
Adult children must grapple with the confessions their parents choose to share with them. Divorcing parents may become needy and rely on their adult children for support through the process, although the children are trying to understand the divorce. As they experience being newly single, parents may also want to share information about their dating life, which many children do not appreciate. If one spouse leaves the marriage for another partner, this new relationship may also cause strain on adult children.
The long-term effects of divorce on adult children are only beginning to be understood. Many adult children of divorce report being thoroughly disillusioned with the institution of marriage after seeing that their parents’ relationship could not sustain the test of time. Others say they have no desire to have children of their own and possibly put them through the same experience.
The trend of gray divorce has resulted in a growing number of therapists who work together with lawyers to help adult children cope with the process. These therapists say it is especially important for parents to deliver the news to their children in person and not over the phone. The collaborative divorce process sometimes involves therapy that considers the needs of the entire family.