Monday, December 2, 2013

When Parents Of Adult Children Divorce...

Dear Tazi:

I am a thirty-something woman, married to a wonderful husband with two young children. Like all marriages mine has its ups and downs but my husband and I always work through them, keeping in mind the vows we took to always love, honor, and cherish each other. When my sister and I were growing up, we knew our parents had their differences and we witnessed how they always worked through them in order to make their marriage work. With their marriage as a model, I learned that there are times when a marriage takes more work than you would like, but in the end you will be glad you made the effort because the bad times do not last forever!

Tazi, I feel like my world has been turned on its parents have told my sister and me that they have decided to separate and will be getting a divorce! They have been married for almost 40 years! How can this be happening? Mom broke the news to me a week before Halloween, while Dad told my sister. They wanted to let us know before the holidays so the stress of hiding a lie would not ruin them for us. Like knowing that my parents don't love each other anymore is going to make for a happy holiday season?

My Dad has moved into an apartment while my mother remains in the house - my childhood home - and prepares it for sale. Neither my sister or I have told our children what is going on, and we would like to withhold this information until after the holidays. Right now, when we go over to visit and they ask "where's Grandpa?" my mother always says he is away on a fishing trip with friends. So far, he has been coming by to see his grandchildren once a week and has been acting like nothing is wrong, only that he has a new-found hobby of fishing.

I have no idea what to do or what to think about anything - including my own marriage. Am I doomed to the same fate as my parents? I mean, if they can't make things work what hope do the rest of us have? How to I tell my children that Grandma and Grandpa are breaking up? What do I do if (heaven forbid) one or both of my parents wants to bring a "friend" with them for Christmas dinner or our annual New Year's Eve party? My husband has been an absolute rock through all of this, telling me that every marriage is different; that he loves me and the challenges that come with being married - that he would choose it over being single any day - and that when the time comes, we will break the news to our daughters together.

I feel like I am acting like a little kid, whining about how Daddy doesn't live here anymore...I feel like I should be strong for my children...I feel like my parents should suck it up and work things out and be adults about this! And then, when I think these thoughts, I feel like I am being selfish; like my parents only stayed together because of me and my sister and took it until they just couldn't take any more. I think my one question for you, dear sweet kitten, is "How?" How do I handle the fact that my world is crumbling without crumbling myself?


P.S. I know counseling would help, but right now I just don't have the time for it!!!

Dear Numb:

You have my sympathies for your entire situation. Divorce is never easy, and the longer a person's parents have been together the harder it is for a child to imagine them not being together - especially when that child is now a grown adult with children of her own, as you are.

Your husband is right; every marriage is different and you need to keep this in mind. Do not assume that your marriage is doomed to failure because you took lessons from a couple who are now separating, and do not assume that your parents no longer love each other! Your parents may no longer be "in love" or even love each other the way a husband and wife should love each other, but I doubt that these feelings have been replaced with apathy. Your parents have spent the better part of their lives with each other; they have two children together as well as grandchildren - what affects one will affect the other, if only because it affects the people they hold dearest to their hearts. No matter the physical distance they put between themselves, they will always be a part of each other's lives. You need to recognize this fact, and your parents need to recognize it, too, if they have not already.

Since you have not told your children about Grandma and Grandpa's separation, the impending sale of their house, or anything other than Grandpa's new fishing hobby I believe that you should let your parents know that you would like this Christmas to be about family only, and that they are not to invite a date to join them at your home. Point out that you have not broken the news to the children, and that you would prefer to ease them into the idea of Grandma and Grandpa living separately. Tell them that you do not want your children to be hurt in the cross-fire of a divorce, so that you expect both of your parents to remain an active part of their lives and to remain civil to each other while doing so! As difficult as this can be, it can be done!

Looking ahead, you will have to accept the possibility that one or both of your parents will be dating other people by this time next year. I do not believe the holidays are the time to spring someone new on the kids (of either generation), even if they have adjusted to the separation. A neutral time, place, and event is the best way to go about doing this, but that is another issue altogether.

I know that the winter holiday season can be a very busy time of year, but you may want to look into finding a counselor now to talk to in the new year. A good counselor will probably be booked several weeks (or even months) min advance, so ask your family doctor, clergy, or trusted friend for a referral and make the call as soon as possible. The coming stretch will be a rocky one for all involved, but try to remember that this is not about you, that you are not the cause of your parents separation or of their long-lived marriage. Also remember that nobody knows what goes on inside someone else's marriage except for the two people living inside of it. Trust me, it helps.

Extra Snuggles AND A Cuddle,

P.S. You really think I am a dear sweet kitten? I am purring all over!

Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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