“Gray divorce” is a term that refers to divorce in couples over 50 years old. There are plenty of reasons why people decide to get divorced—in some cases, after decades of marriage. Many couples at this phase of their life are experiencing empty nests for the first time and are finding that once their kids have left the home, their relationship is not where they hoped it would be. No matter what the reasons may be, the reality is a lot of adults with families of their own are navigating their parents’ divorce.
I am one of those adults facing their parents’ divorce, and it is an extremely complicated experience.
I am a few days away from turning 35, and my parents have been married for 34 years. I have three beautiful kids ages 8, 6 and 4 years old with a 12-year marriage of my own and an extremely busy life. There is a part of me that is very grateful I am going through this experience at the age I am with the knowledge and wisdom I have gained in my career as a Marriage and Family Therapist and within the confines of my own marriage where I have a partner who has been nothing but loving and supportive.
There is also a part of me that, at times, feels completely overwhelmed. Soccer games, play rehearsals, work, dinners, cleaning, laundry, homework—these are the threads that come together to create the tapestry of my family’s daily life. We are filled to the brim with activities and never-ending household tasks, and adding a huge, life-altering event into the midst of this very delicate dance has thrown me off balance. I have had a hard time finding the time to process what is happening and to grieve what has been lost.
I am only six months into this transformation of my family, and I am by no means an expert on the subject. Well, I guess technically as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I am an expert on the subject, but in all honesty, most days I feel lost.
Here are some things I am learning about navigating your parents’ divorce as an adult.
1. Communicate, then communicate some more.
Take some time to really talk through what you are feeling and to game plan with your partner, close friends, and those you trust. My husband, my siblings, my two best friends, and my therapist friends have been absolutely integral in helping me through this journey. I basically word vomit on them everything that is happening internally, and they help me organize and make sense of it all. Their support and advice have been invaluable.
How should we tell our kids? Do I need to make boundaries? What should we do for holidays? Is it normal to feel this (insert emotion)?
My parents are also going through one of the hardest trials of their lives—they cannot cannot be the healers of everyone’s experiences as they are trying to go through their own healing process. Having a support system outside of them has been very helpful.
2. Make space for the grief.
As a therapist myself, I am a huge fan of it and the benefits. I have my own therapist, and once a week I have 50 minutes to feel the feelings. Of course, the grief catches me outside of those 50 minutes, but when I have to stuff it down (like right before walking into a session with one of my clients), I have a place where it gets to come back out. Grief is something you will experience after divorce and it has to have the opportunity to be felt, no matter how uncomfortable.
3. It is okay to question everything.
I went through a phase when I felt like everything I thought I knew must have been wrong and wondered what else I could be wrong about. It kind of shook my foundation more than I wanted to admit, and I started to question all the things.
When all you have ever known changes and you have no choice in the matter, it makes you go through a lot of self-reflection. It is scary, but in those scary, uncomfortable corners of life, some of the most amazing growth and transformations occur. If you allow it. Process through the questions and stay rooted in the things you do know.
4. Know what you are going through is layered and complicated.
It is okay to have moments of sadness, anger, and confusion. It is also okay to still have moments of joy, laughter, and gratitude. Take this as an opportunity to ask questions you may have never asked and to find yourself in ways you never would have expected.