DIVORCE WITH KIDS 18 to 25
Every parent going through divorce hopes to avoid damaging his or her children in the process. The children’s well being is the first goal and strong intention every parent articulates when I meet with them as their collaborative divorce coach. I tell parents that research results show that minimizing hurt is possible if parents have the right information and act accordingly.
The impact of divorce on younger children is obvious. They will divide their time between two parents’ homes, cope with two separate family structures and often miss one parent or the other. There are laws in each state that dictate how children under 18 will be provided for.
Guidelines are not as obvious for young adults 18 to 25. These young people are getting ready to leave home or may be in college or in the military, for example. It may seem that their parents’ divorce should affect them less, and it’s true on a practical day-to-day basis, but the emotional and psychological impact will surely disrupt their lives.
No one is perfect, particularly when under stress, and parents may make some typical, but fortunately avoidable or correctable mistakes. Here’s how to avoid some of the more common problems for older children:
Be discriminating. Parents may have the mistaken notion that since their young person is not a child, they can relax the protective parental boundary and tell them everything they are thinking and feeling. This is not appropriate and here’s why:
The young adult should be working on becoming independent and has a normal developmental drive to gradually reduce dependency on parents. This is a healthy step towards establishing his or her own life. A parental divorce may thwart this process if the young person believes he or she is responsible for a parent’s emotional well being. Confiding in them about worries will make them feel responsible, anxious or inadequate, since they aren’t able to change much themselves.
Parents are still parents. In other words, young adult children are not to be treated as friends. Parents must stay in the role of parent, offering support and reassurance. This is actually true for offspring of any age. It’s destabilizing for them to be exposed to what has been private information between their parents in the past and therefore changes the nature of the relationship.
For divorcing adults, talking and processing thoughts and feelings are important, but not with your kids. Do this with a therapist, in a support group or with friends. They will hear it differently than your children will, because they are not directly impacted by what you say. Children and parents are intimately connected in a very different way than either are with their friends. It’s important to keep that parent-child boundary in place and not slip into confiding in a young adult inappropriately.