An old joke goes:
Ed, retired in Florida with his wife, gets on the phone and calls his son in New Jersey one mid-November. "I think you should know that your mother and I have decided to call it quits. We're getting a divorce. It's amicable."
"No, Pop!" yells the son. "You can't get divorced now! You've been together too many years! Listen, promise you won't do anything till I get there. I'll come down next week. OK? And I'll call my sister...she'll come too!"
Ed hangs up the phone with a mischievous grin and turns to his wife. "It's OK, honey. The kids will be here for Thanksgiving after all."
The wife turns to her husband and says, "Great! But what are we going to tell them to get them down for Christmas?"
It's a joke, but the son's horrified reaction is real. Kids do not want to see their parents get divorced. Anyone can understand the reaction of a five-year-old, 10-year-old, or even 15-year-old who learns that his home is about to be sundered. But why would a 35-year-old be upset to that degree at news that his parents are breaking up? If you say it's the best thing for both of you, shouldn't your adult child accept your word for it?
[ Step-Family Bonding: Can Two Families Get Along? ]
Living a lie
One reason is that it shocks kids to hear that their parents aren't happy together because they wonder, then, if you were unhappy all along. Was the warm, cozy family of your daughter's youth a fabrication of her imagination? Was there discord all along, which your son couldn't see? Was the "happy family" they each hoped to emulate for themselves a fraud from the get-go? (They also may feel foolish at not having realized it all along.)
Another reason is that, as you both approach your older years, they want to know that you each have someone you can depend on who will be there to take care of you: each other. (And, mixed in with that, they may be concerned that if you aren't there for each other, it may fall to them to take care of you should you have a medical contingency.)
Too, they don't want to be put in a situation of divided loyalty. Are they going to be asked to take sides, to tell one or the other of you, "You're right," or "Yes, I can understand why you left him/her"?
Then there's the comfort of the familiar. When our worlds are turned upside-down, life can get pretty scary. And the marriage of our parents is about as fundamental as you can get.
[ Five Factors That Contribute to Midlife Divorce ]
All for the best
So how do you cope with an adult child who's freaked at the prospect of your divorce?
First, show him or her that you're in control. You're not falling apart. You're not going to flounder, being on your own. Neither is it going to be a financial emergency. If you can calmly sit your child down and spell things out-what your plans are, how you're going to cope (emotionally, financially, and practically), you may give her a great deal of reassurance right there.
Second, don't go into the details of what went wrong in the marriage. Your kids are entitled to some explanation: "We grew apart," "We never really got along, and I don't want to live the rest of my life like that," "There were issues…I don't want to go into them. We're entitled to some privacy." But take your cue from that last statement: You are entitled to some privacy…and your kids are entitled to be protected from a litany of his faults or yours, or a recitation of his cheating ways. That will also protect them from feeling pulled as strongly to take sides.
Third, don't ask them to take sides. Even if he has had three affairs in the last year and gave you herpes, too, even if he gave you a black eye the last time he went on a bender, even if he habitually humiliates you in front of your friends, that's still their father you're talking about.
Fourth, make them understand that you're sure this is what you want, this isn't the result of hasty thinking, and neither is it the end of the world. You're getting divorced…and that's that. And things will be okay...in fact, better than ever.
If you and your husband can stay amicable when you're no longer married, that will be a big plus, too. If your kids don't feel they have to choose which of you to invite to their houses for holiday dinners, grandchild birthdays, and such, but can invite both of you without an Arctic frost settling over the room, that will make things a lot easier for them.
[ When Your Daughter Divorces ]
Stick to your guns
But above all, don't let them sway you (or guilt you) into "thinking it over" or regretting the move, if you're sure it's the right thing for you.
It's your life. Live it the way you believe is best for you.
About the Author: Cynthia MacGregor is the author of 54 published books and over 30 e-books, as well as ghostwritten books, articles, and many other kinds of writing.
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