YOUR CHILD’S DIVORCE, Part 2: What is a Parent's Role?

“Divorce makes it tempting for everyone concerned to divide the world into good and evil, victim and
aggressor, villain and martyr. Grandparents,aunts, uncles, cousins, and others may all line up in hostile
allegiance beside their family member.”

Joshua Coleman, Ph.D. When Parents Hurt.

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In part 1 of this series, “Your Child’s Divorce: A Whole Host of Emotions,” we looked at what parents felt as their child’s marriage came apart. In this installment we’ll examine what parents did.
Some swung into action . . . Jim D. said, “I was in the trenches with my daughter. She was all shook up over the split, so I took charge. I was the one who found her a locksmith, a family lawyer, and a good therapist. When her ex sued to get full custody of the children—and failed—I made sure he repaid the court costs to me to remind him every month not to pull a stunt like that again. He can push around my daughter, but he knows he can’t do that to me.”
Johanna G. said, “I just couldn’t sit on the sidelines while my grandchildren suffered so during this time of terrible upheaval. I stepped up financially so that the kids and my daughter-in-law could stay in their home. My son stopped talking to me for a while over this, but I felt I simply had to stabilize the situation.” Liz B. added, “I offered to pay for therapy for the kids. My son’s ex took me up on it, and it proved to be a great way for them to pour out their hearts in a safe environment.”
. . . Others purposely did nothing. “We tried to stay as far away from the divorce as possible, just as we had tried to stay away from the marriage. We felt we had no constructive role to play when things were good and we certainly didn’t have any role to play when things got bad. Toward the end our daughter-in-law would call and say, ‘Come up right now and you deal with him!’ Then she would send us vicious emails. We never responded. Unfortunately, her weapon of choice was the grandchildren, whom she kept from us for ten years. When we finally got to see them and tactfully inquired why their mother was so set against us, they replied, ‘She said you were mean to her.’”
Most listened—ad nauseum. Said Bradley S., parent of a divorcing son. “The last person in world your child wants to get advice from is his father. So, unless I’m asked for my opinion directly, I nod, say ‘uhm’, or spout something innocuous. I have to respect him as an adult even if he is not living according to my values. Besides, this is the world’s worst time to be judgmental. He’s such a mess that anything I say will be taken as criticism.” According to Marsha Temlock, MA, author of Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect – What You Can Do, you should be supportive, ask how you can help, and validate your child’s feelings, but don’t pile on about the ex, as tempting as that may be. “You’re going to see a certain amount of regression,” she says, “Your child may feel very, very needy.”
They pitched in with the grandchildren. The experts say making your home a refuge for the grandchildren is one of the most important things you can do. Their entering a conflict-free zone and repeating familiar rituals will be a great comfort to the kids, even if they don’t articulate it. Rachel D. was appreciative that, “My divorced son’s sister really spent a lot of time and energy ensuring that her nephews knew they were embedded in a strong, loving family.” And Chris P. offered, “My own ex and I tried to set a good example by attending family events together to show the kids it was possible to be cordial after a divorce.”
Many dug into their retirement funds. Adina M. said, “We cut deep into our savings to help out our daughter when her ex stopped making his child support payments. She works as a teacher but that doesn’t cut it in Los Angeles. I know you’re not supposed make your kids too dependent on you, but the “experts” who dispense that advice clearly have not been in this situation themselves. Despite what you read about million-dollar celebrity settlements and big palimony payouts, divorce still leaves most women much poorer than they were when they were married.”
They looked for the silver lining. “When my son-in-law moved out, the grandkids could start the healing process, so that was a plus,” said Kelly M. Karen L. offered, “I think my daughter’s divorce brought his sibs and me closer. We all worked on her relationship together.” Aaron P. added, “Since the divorce my son confides in us more than in past.” Lisa Z. chimed in, “I’ve gotten past the worst of it, and I’ve come to realize that my ex-daughter-in-law has problems of her own.” Pam K. had the final word. “After two failed marriages to damaged human beings, my son is finally tired of his Mr. Fix-It role,” she said. “I’d like to see him try again if he wants to – but only with the right person.”

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In part 3 of this series, we’ll take a look at the younger generation’s “starter marriage.”

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