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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Encouraging and Supporting Your Child Through A Divorce

When YOUR Child Divorces---Adjusting Together

As I begin this final installment on the topic of dealing with your child’s divorce, I do so having had another conversation in which a friend shared with me about a person who just lost their court case seeking establishment of grandparenting time with the grandchild.  They went to court because their ex-daughter-in-law refuses to allow the child to visit them, and even though there is no abuse or such circumstances, the judge denied their request.  Sadly, the truth is, the law has not yet caught up with the realities of the complications of divorce, and that can be heartbreaking.  It is a sad thing to think the court would sanction a child growing up without opportunity to know his or her grandparents, even though the grandparents desire such an opportunity. 

So much is at risk, and in the upheaval, significant areas of life experience drastic restructuring.  Today we consider some of this restructuring, for both the parent and the divorcing child.  Everything cannot be addressed here, so I will pull out a few random examples.  

However, the biggest key of all is keeping open and honest channels of communication about expectations, boundaries, frustrations and needs.  

The emotions in divorce are strong, whether you are the parent watching your child being dragged to court over and again, or the individual experiencing the loss of your marriage.  Sympathy, anger, hurt, frustration and fear are but a few of the emotions that can crop up with great intensity, and when they do, good judgment is all too often clouded.  So as you experience the desire to help and to protect, or in the case of the child, a desire to run from the pain, try to make decisions with sound judgment and not allow emotional instability to override reason.

So let’s hit those high points:

Talk about needs.  A parent always wants to help meet their child’s needs, and certainly no less when they are hurting during a divorce.  So it is appropriate to help your parent understand the needs you are experiencing, and for them to choose to help with some of those needs.  I knew a divorcing woman who was so caught up in depression that she desperately needed help preparing meals for her toddlers.  This is the kind of tangible way a parent can be helpful.  It is also the kind of thing that can become overdone.  Helps like these can be important short term, but not on an ongoing basis, nor when they rescue from a difficult situation in such a way that the individual never has to solve the problems embedded in their changing life.  Better to respond, “Yes, I can help cook this week, and I’ll make sure you have groceries for next week.”

Talk about finances.  Just as parents don’t generally know all the details of a married child’s financial world, it is also not necessary to know all the details (or to share all the details) when divorcing.  HOWEVER, there can be extenuating circumstances from the financial devastation that often accompanies divorce.  It may be appropriate to discuss the struggle of affording the attorney bills, or covering costs of new housing (or old housing on one budget), but to be overly involved can add a great emotional burden to a parent in an issue that is primarily the child’s responsibility to solve.  As another example, I know of times parents have made loans, helped with housing for a while, or assisted with groceries or attorney fees, but in these assists, short term style thinking remains important.

Share the hurt…kind of.  If the parent-child relationship is one in which personal sharing of struggles is normal, then it is only natural that it will follow on through the divorce.  But the person experiencing the pain and trauma of divorce can sometimes be oblivious to the fact that the parent is also experiencing pain.  That pain can be intensified when the parent bears not only their own pain, but also the burden of the child’s pain as well.  It is important that the child share in a limited fashion in this area, and seek support and encouragement with other friends, counselors or groups, lest the load on the parent becomes inappropriately heavy.  Share pain, share healing, and share encouragement, but avoid “dumping” too extensively.

Talk about limits and boundaries.  Sometimes the divorcing child moves into the parents’ home temporarily, or sometimes parents become regular babysitters for their grandchildren now living in a single parent home.  These kind of things can be very helpful, but can also become very stressful when unintentionally abused.  If you seek a parent’s assistance, or decide to offer help for your child, it is most useful to be specific and establish appropriate boundaries from the outset.  Offer to babysit, but only on certain days, or for certain kinds of events.  I knew of one grandparent frustrated when they discovered that their child was dropping the grandchildren off with her so that they could go out partying, rather than accept the responsibility of parenthood.  If temporarily moving in, establish an expected time frame, knowing it can be renegotiated if needed at a later date, and be clear about expectations in terms of groceries, utilities and assumptions about built-in babysitting.  If loaning money, put in writing the expectations for repayment, and discuss expectations and limits of future assistance.  

Share about the ex…maybe. Some discussions about the ex-spouse can be important, such as that the parent does need to know the grandchildren are safe.  It can also be helpful for them to know some of the challenges you are facing, as well as to understand things they may not know about why the marriage fell apart.  However, when it becomes a bashing session, it is no longer helpful for anyone, and only fosters anger and unforgiveness, as well as preventing the child from being able to move on in their lives.  These discussions about ex-spouses can also create an environment in which one individual “borrows trouble” from the other, or takes on anger that is not legitimately their own.  On the other hand, the parent can sometimes provide a balance and some perspective for a child who has gotten caught up with inappropriate anger or behavior.  By and large, though, I believe conversations on these topics ought to be kept relatively limited, and certainly off limits in the presence of grandchildren.

These examples illustrate the kind of shifts that take place between parent and child as the child divorces, and issues that need to be discussed, understood and negotiated.  There are many more.  However, the encouragement and support of parents in this time is absolutely invaluable.  And, as concerned parents, they also need the assurance that you are going to be okay, and will let them know when you need help.  You are moving into uncharted and new territory in your relationship, and so you will have to find the way that works best for all of you, realizing you will probably make some mistakes along the way.  But the love between parents and child can be an anchor that helps make the journey a bit safer and easier through the troubled waters of divorce.

TL:dr  The vital relationship between parent and divorcing child can become complicated and enmeshing, so communication is critical.

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