Your child's divorce - Part II
Mistakes parents make when their children divorce
One difficulty parents have is accepting the fact that their child's decision to divorce is a reality. Face it: their marriage is in big trouble. If the kids mean business (and they probably do, or they wouldn't have made the announcement in the first place), as a parent, you are going to have to get off the path of denial.
Like their divorcing children, parents have to grieve. Experts in marital and family relations compare the stages of divorce grief to the stages of death grief. Following the initial shock and denial, there is a healthy period of mourning leading to acceptance and recovery. You may think that if you could just understand the reasons for your child's decision, you would not feel so low. However, your child may have shut down and not ready to talk about the marital problems.
Looking for Reasons
Another mistake parents make is jumping to conclusions as to why their children's marriage failed. You may spend many sleepless nights second-guessing how this could have happened to your child, or "the perfect couple." You could come up with what you think is a credible list of probabilities: maybe your child is a workaholic and spent too many hours at the office and not enough time at home. Maybe the stress of work had gotten to your child, making your child emotionally unavailable. The list of possibilities underlying your child's marital problems could have gone on and on. All unsubstantiated, of course.
Maybe in your case you know exactly why your child is seeking a divorce. A spouse has an addiction problem, is abusive, is a serial womanizer, or has taken a lover. Perhaps over time, you will discover the reasons. Or perhaps you never will. In the meantime, the best advice is not to look for answers while you are still in the dark, but simply to provide support.
A Barrel of Blame
Another mistake parents make when they get the news their child is getting divorced is to charge themselves with the failure. Perhaps it's easier to blame yourself than to accept the fact that somehow your children have failed you by not living out your dreams. Many parents cannot accept the humiliation and embarrassment of their children's divorce, even though divorce is so much more socially acceptable today.
A Gallon of Guilt
Too many divorced parents bear the burden of guilt when they should be focusing on the strength and experience they can offer their children. I came across one such situation when I was talking to a young woman who initially blamed her divorced mother for her own marital failure. By the end of our interview, Barbara reversed herself and declared her mother had actually been a positive role model.
Understandably, a child's divorce can cause a certain amount of residual anger to surface in embittered parents who never resolved their own marital issues. It is much healthier if parents can work together instead of finding fault with one another and widening the breach. Your kids don't need more fallout.
The Parental Knee-Jerk to Fix It
Another mistake that parents make is the knee-jerk reaction to try to fix a child's marriage by insisting the couple go for marriage counseling.
One therapist explained that counseling is not a safety net. It is an opportunity for self-growth, a chance for individuals to understand each partner's personal agenda, to look at the power struggles, the defense mechanisms, and other negative behaviors that are causing strife in the relationship. It's a process, not a quick fix, to rebuild a marriage - which may or may not be possible (assuming rebuilding is still possible). You can suggest that they go for counseling, not push.
Parents as Saviors
It is difficult to fault parents for wanting the best for their children, but in this area, they need to pull back and let their children take responsibility. One embittered man spoke up in a grandparent support group to say that to this day he has not forgiven his parents for their lack of support when he told them how miserable he was in his marriage. "My parents made me stick it out. I stayed married eight years longer than I should have, and it was hell. All that time wasted."
Do as I Say, Not as I Do
There are many other parental mistakes to note. One biggie is holding your own marriage or someone else's up to the light as a model. Marriages are as different as seashells. Moreover, while they may look perfect lying on the sand, when you examine them closely you see all the crannies. The best advice is to refrain from holding one marriage up to the light as an example of how another couple rode out the storm.
Don't equate emotional support with in-law bashing. You may think you are consoling your daughter when you say, "You were right to get rid of the lazy bum" or you remind your son, "She was never top-drawer." No one wants to hear that she wasted all that time, money, and energy building a relationship that was doomed from the get-go. Instead, acknowledge how hard your child tried to make the marriage work. (Even if she didn't, she thinks she did.) You cannot win points by knocking the in-law. Be mindful that the couple might get back together or stay connected after the divorce.
Read Your child's divorce - Part I: How to communicate your support when your child announces their divorce
This article is edited and excerpted from the book YOUR CHILD'S DIVORCE: What To Expect -- What You Can Do © 2006 by Marsha Temlock. Reproduced by permission of Impact Publishers, P.O. Box 6016, Atascadero, CA 93423-6016, www.impactpublishers.com. Further reproduction prohibited.
For more articles on considering divorce, visit http://www.divorcemag.com/articles/Considering-Divorce.