When “kids” are in charge: divorce and adult children

adult childrenMuch has been written about the impact of divorce on young children – so much, in fact, that many parents choose to stay together for the sake of the kids. Times goes by, kids grow up, and by the time the parents are ready to call it quits the dynamic has shifted. In some of my cases, I see the adult children take charge – and that can get ugly.

Consider these two recent examples (all names have been changed).

“Jim (64) and Mary (60) are going through a divorce after 30 years of marriage. Their two kids, who are in their late 20’s, have taken Jim’s side and are determined to make sure he gets a “good deal”. Unfortunately, their good intentions backfire: they keep telling Dad what to do or not do. They interfere with attempts to find common ground, and generally make decisions twice as difficult and time consuming as they should be.”

“Stephanie (23) called me to ask for a divorce – for her mom! She explained that Mom has been miserable in her marriage for as long as Stephanie could remember, and now that Stephanie has graduated and got a good job, it’s time for her parents to face the facts and split. And no, she did not talk to Mom before making the call.”

Divorce with adult children in tow: tips for taking back the wheel

My formula for managing relationships with adult children as you are going through the divorce is simple: communication + boundaries.

  • Talk to your children about the divorce, but don’t share personal details. Just because your kids are over 21 does not mean that they need or want to hear the play-by-play of every disagreement between their parents. Talk through the impending divorce with your professional collaborative divorce team, your therapist, and your friends – all in the interest of keeping your kids out of it.
  • Make it clear that the divorce is between Mom and Dad, and that it is not your kids’ job or place to manage the process. If kids try to steer the divorce process, tell them that you appreciate their concern, then draw the boundary and don’t let them interfere.
  • Be sure that you are communicating with your spouse directly or through attorneys – without involving your kids as a go-between. If you are frustrated, disappointed, or confused, talk to the people who can drive a constructive resolution.
  • Resist badmouthing the other parent in front of your adult children, no matter how wrong, inappropriate, or unfair his or her actions are in your opinion. Complaining and venting can make your children feel like they need to step in, and tangling more people in sensitive conversations won’t make them any cleaner or more constructive.

If you are unsure where to start, reach out to our team at Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance . The support of the right attorneys and communication coaches can make a real difference!


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