It is still fairly common for couples who are considering divorce to stay married longer than they want for the kids. The belief is that a divorce would be too hard on younger children and that adult children will understand and be able to handle a divorce easier.
It is a misconception that older children, or even adult children will handle the divorce of their parents any easier than young children. The way teenagers and adult cope their parents divorcing is different than how a five-year-old would handle it, but that doesn’t mean that it is any easier. It may actually be easier on the younger child.
How Parents Deal with Their Children During a Divorce
When a couple divorces, if they are responsible co-parents, they will do whatever they can do to protect their children from the pain and trauma of the divorce. They will seek help for their children in the form of therapy. Many school systems have support groups in school for children of divorced parents.
When parents divorce, they make sure the children know that they still love them, and the divorce is in no way their fault. When it comes to young children, the entire process focuses on what is in the best interests of the child. This does not mean a divorce is easy for young children, but everything possible is done to shield the child from the worst parts of the divorce.
Older Children Often Do Not Get the Same Consideration
When a divorcing couple has older children, or even adult children, they will not go so far out of their way to hide the worst parts of the divorce from the children. Some parents will see their older children as adults, and share more information about the problems in their marriage than would be advisable. They would speak to their adult children without any filters at all. This can be a malicious act to get their children to side with them in the divorce, or it may be completely innocent with the parent treating their adult children, as, well, adults.
The problem is that regardless of age, adult children are still the children of their family, even if they are themselves married and have a career, a mortgage, and their own children.
We spoke recently about the rise in “gray divorce.” In that blog we focused on the couples older than 50, but we did not discuss the impact gray divorce has on the children.
Role Reversal – The Child Now Takes Care of the Parent
Older people who divorce after so many years, may have a difficult time adjusting to their life changes. They will lean more on their children for companionship and depend on them for help in transitioning to their new life. Taking care of a parent can be the source of high levels of stress or anxiety. They may feel obligated to take sides if they are caring for one parent. In a case such as this, as opposed to be shielded from the divorce, the adult child is playing an active, and unwanted role in the entire divorce.
Was My Entire Life a Lie?
When an older couple gets divorced, it is perfectly natural for the adult children to go back through their past to look for signs that something was wrong all along. Even if the marriage was stable and healthy while they were kids, they may suddenly remember “clues” that the marriage was in trouble even if they are completely making it up. This can cause the adult child to believe their entire life was a sham and any happy memories they have of their childhood can be retroactively ruined.
Perpetuating the Cycle
When a child grows up with married parents, meets someone, gets married, and has their own kids, they will undoubtly at some point compare their family now with their family growing up. They may do similar things, such as go on vacations to the same or similar types of places, or they may participate in similar activities. If a kid grew up bike riding, camping, and playing ball with his dad, he may share those same activities with their son. When the parents divorce, the comparisons that have always been made all of a sudden break down and the adult child may start to think that if divorce can happen to their parents, it could happen to them. With that seed planted, the odds of another generation of gray divorce increases.
Divorce is always going to be hard on the children whether the child is 5, fifteen, or thirty-five. Regardless of age, a person’s parents are still their parents and the stress brought on by divorce can be spread to the adult children who are now dealing with unfiltered stark reality.
If you are considering divorce, but feel that it may not be right for you, there are several things a person or a couple can do to try to find they way back to being happy. However, if you are thinking it would be better to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of the children, think about how the process of divorce protects minor children and how, if you decide to wait until the children are older, it could affect their stress, anxiety, and even their mental health.
Divorce is a personal matter and there is no one reason why people decide to end their marriage, or conversely why they decide to stay together. Whatever those reason are, they should be based on their own feelings, wants, and desires. Do not stay married for the sake of the children. Regardless of age, they will always be your children, and you are not making it easier on them by staying in an unhappy marriage. Studies have shown quite the opposite. The older the children are, the more difficult a divorce may be.