As an adult who weathered through a divorce proceeding within the past thirteen (13) years, I was the product of an intact family having parents who were married for more than 54 years. Like most young women, I was socialized into thinking that I would grow up, meet Prince Charming, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after! Unfortunately, that dream of many young women has become more of a myth than a true-to-life fairy tale as our divorce rate approaches or exceeds 50% for first time marriages. Nevertheless, I was hopeful that my two children would not be negatively affected by their parents divorce as they were not toddlers anymore. When my divorce actually took place, both children had graduated from college and were living independently.
When my son advised us that he was going to become engaged, we were thrilled for him. They seemed to be so happy and so in love with one another. Their wedding was like a fairy tale wedding with a beautiful bride, a handsome groom, and a great wedding party of supportive friends and relatives. Three children and 16 years later, the glow of the first few years has faded, the love and attention that a marriage must have to be sustained had disappeared, and the parties were facing a broken marriage.
I was not totally shocked by the news as I had seen warning signs for several years. I had urged counseling for both of them; I had called Wifes parents and urged them to provide some help/aid in getting Wife some needed assistance. I might have been talking to a brick wall or some other inanimate object. Nothing was done to salvage the marriage. As I have learned throughout the years, the old adage of, You can lead a horse to water, but you cant make him drink, is so very true!
My advice or suggestions to parents confronted with the failing marriage and divorce of their adult children is as follows:
- Urge and encourage; and, if necessary, assist them in finding independent legal representation. I should no more try to represent my own son in his divorce proceeding than a physician should try to treat an ailing family member. We are simply too close to the situation to be objective!
- Be a good listener and be supportive of your son or daughter, but realize and recognize that there are two sides to every broken marriage.
- Maintain your relationships with your grandchildren, if any, and keep enforcing the fact that both parents love them and that both parents will be there for them and that you will continue to be a major factor in their lives.
- Maintain contact with your son or daughter and your grandchildren by letter/cards, telephone, email, texting (if you do texting!).
- If you notice signs or symptoms of depression in your adult son or daughter, urge them to obtain mental health counseling. Warning signs include: tearfulness and crying, feeling blue, melancholy, sad, inability to make decisions, difficulty with sleeping, eating too much or not wanting to eat at all, becoming involved with drinking or the use of medications or drugs to ease the unrest and discomfort! We must all realize and recognize that divorces and dissolutions do happen and they are likely to continue to happen. They must be accepted and dealt with maturity, love, and understanding.
- Other authors on this subject encourage parents to maintain relationships with the former daughter-in-law or son-in-law. I think this decision has to be made on a case-by-case basis based upon depth of the relationship during the marriage of the children. While I maintained a close relationship with my former mother-in-law from the time of my divorce until the time of her death, ours was a special relationship of over thirty (30) plus years. We had always maintained love and respect for one another as individual human beings.
Being a parent does not end when our children reach adulthood. It is an ongoing process, for better or worse! Being supportive, yet firm, when having to deal with issues that our adult children are grappling with is a continuance of our unconditional love and desire for them to live the happy life we have envisioned for them.
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.