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 founder of a scholarship-search website in Forest Park, Ohio.
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 breakup 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.
Here’s some advice 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,” added Temlock.
“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.”
▪ 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.”
▪ 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 breakup. “Just ask, ‘How can I help?’” said Rachael Silverman, a Boca Raton, Fla., psychologist.
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.”
▪ 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.
▪ Call a lawyer, except in circumstances like those listed in Temlock’s book: 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.
▪ 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.”