How to support your adult child in their divorce
When Ashley Hill, 28, told her parents she was divorcing her husband, they circled the wagons. She needed a place to stay temporarily, so they welcomed her home. By standing by her physically and emotionally, they gave her the "confidence and strength" she needed to endure divorce court, said the Forest Park, Ohio, founder of a scholarship-search website.
Many a seminar and how-to book guides couples through their splits or divorces. But there are few resources for you when your grown kids split, even though the break-up affects you too. Should you yield to the parenting instinct that sends you swooping in (cue the Tarzan yell) to help your child? Or, should you butt out? The answer is "both" or "neither," depending on the circumstances.
Following are do's and don'ts from survivors:
Understand you're probably not the first person your child called. He already told his friends, at least, as his relationship went downhill. "He may be more 'divorce-ready' than you realize," said Marsha Temlock, of Westport, Conn., a retired vocational counselor and author of "Your Child's Divorce: What to Expect — What You Can Do."
Keep the OMGs to yourself and be your child's Rock of Gibraltar. Even if he's the bad guy in the divorce.
"There are two sides to every story," said Dallas, Texas, retiree Gloria Cox, who considers each of her three ex-sons-in-law "decent men and good fathers," regardless of who did what to trigger their divorces.
Ready yourself for the stages of grief because you and your divorcing child will grieve the loss of the ex and their relationship. Get past the first stage, denial, because here come the others — anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
"Keep the routine as normal as possible if you have grandkids," said Cox. Do whatever you did before, like having them over for sleepovers or hosting their birthday parties, she said, because "humans do not like change."
Allow him to move back home until he's back on his feet, but with house rules. Temlock suggests drafting a contract that says who does which chores, who pays for what and when he must move out.
Maintain your relationship with his ex if you two are close and it doesn't upset your child. "Say, 'I really like Sally. How do you feel about me staying friends with her?'" said Rosalind Sedacca, of Boynton Beach, Fla., a coordinator of The Child-Centered Divorce online network. "Otherwise, if there are no grandkids, you can severe ties and the ex can ride off into the sunset."
Anticipate some 911 calls from your child as he adjusts to single-parenthood. "When he says, 'Help! Katie has ballet and Johnny has soccer,' this is where you really can help," said Rachael Silverman, a Boca Raton, Fla., psychologist.
Expect to be part of the post-divorce, marital agreement if you're one of the grandkids' primary caregivers. "If the grandkids have a healthy, supportive grandparent (you), and the other grandparents are not involved, it may be three to one when the judge has to decide what's in the grandchildren's best interests," said Randall Kessler, founding partner of KS Family Law in Atlanta, and author of "Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids and Your Future."
Help him get on with his life. "My son wasn't getting responses to his match.com listing," said Sedacca. "So I tweaked it, and he met his new wife."
Be surprised if your child regresses to the moody, angry teen you thought you'd never see again. Don't take it personally; he's mad at the rest of the world now too.
Join your child's meetings with mediators and lawyers unless they invite you.
Bad-mouth the ex or say, "I told you so." That says your child made a dumb choice of partners. But he didn't think it was dumb at the time. "Besides, you never know," warned Sedacca. "They might get back together."
Pepper him with questions about the break-up. "Just ask, 'How can I help?'" said Silverman.
Loan him cash from the Bank of Mom and Dad without a repayment schedule. "Don't give him your emergency fund," said Silverman. "You saved it for a reason and I guarantee it wasn't for your child's divorce."
If you give him money, consider giving to your other kids too to curb resentment. First, read the IRS' gift-tax rules. And, run it by your child's lawyer to make sure it does not affect his "division of marital assets."
Sue for visitation (of the grandkids) unless you absolutely must. Most judges rule in favor of what's best for the grandchild, which may or may not include you.
"When grandparents ask me how they can make sure they'll still see their grandkids (after a divorce), I say kill them with kindness," said Kessler. "Be the loving grandparent the kids should spend time with."
Call a lawyer, except in circumstances like this: If you countered-signed a loan for the couple, if you're in business with your child or his ex, if you have a trust in their name or if you contributed to the down payment of their home.
Dismiss your child's stress-induced symptoms, like sleep loss, rage and suicidal thoughts. Appetite loss is so common, it's called the "divorce diet." Friends tell him he looks great, but this may be the one time in his life he wants to gain some weight.
Predict the judge's decision, because each divorce case is so different. "In one case, custody of the grandkids went to a dad who was going to jail for a few months for a white-collar crime because his mom had been the primary parent and the grandkids' mom had issues," said Kessler.
Be the spokesperson when friends and family ask about the split. "Keep your answers brief and to-the-point," said Temlock. "Don't ask callers to keep the news under their hats. Hats blow off in the wind."
The attorneys at Gipe Holmes are available to discuss divorce options. Contact us here or by calling (312) 451-9358