RASHMI OBEROI | 8 JULY, 2020
Divorce is a cruel and heartless enemy… Few people understand the pain, the loneliness and frustration you feel. The rest are judgemental and plain bitchy. The worst is when your own family turns your back to you and cuts away from your hurt and trauma. Anyone who’s ever been through a divorce knows the heartache involved - those broken promises and dreams. A future forever altered. Divorce triggers an outpouring of deep emotions but these can always be dealt with.
When I had told my parents I was divorcing decades ago, they circled the wagons. The children and I were welcomed back home. By standing by us physically and emotionally, they gave us the ‘confidence and strength’ needed to endure divorce court and everything else thrown our way.
My reason for writing this today is that I see a lot of people hurting and struggling as they lack any form of support from their family. They have been ostracised for their decisions – for reasons that go beyond my understanding. It pains me to see families ignoring their child that is undergoing a divorce, siblings walking away without a care to the one suffering, friends being cold-hearted and in all this giving priority to what people/society would say! Their ill-advice and rebukes causing more harm than good is unfathomable.
Let’s be clear: Going through divorce is hard and when it’s your child getting divorced you may have to be a supportive parent as well as consoling. It’s letting them know that you are there for them, no matter what. You can still love and support them while saying that you don’t agree with certain issues.
Sometimes divorce comes as a shock and at other times parents will be aware that their child’s marriage is unhappy so it can almost be a relief when it ends. Resist the temptation to badmouth and simply remember they will always be yours. Ask what you can do to help rather than trying to take over and organise them as you think is best. Help focus on the practicalities and consider all the options, both short and long term.
If your child is the one who has ended the relationship there can be a burst of euphoria at finally having everything out there, so be prepared to listen to sometimes outlandish-sounding plans without pouring cold water on them. The first few weeks will be emotional and hard and everything can change by the day, so someone able to stay constant and as calm as possible is a great support.
It’s a cliché because it’s true that there are two sides to a story but at such times, your support to your child overtakes everything else. Never say, “I told you so”. When they talk about the relationship, reassure them that the good times weren’t wasted and that they worked hard at it, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Put your own grief aside at first. There’s double pain is seeing your child heartbroken, while also realising that your relationship with a much-loved son or daughter-in-law is changed for ever.
Ask your child where they’d like to be – in every way – three or six months down the line and help them work towards that. Divorce may be common but that doesn’t make it any less painful, so support such as family mediation can be really useful to reduce everyone’s pain. Parents can take the lead by always putting the children first and encouraging everyone else to do likewise can help make this new life easier all round.
How parents behave initially sets the tone for the future. The way in which you react to your child's announcement will pave the way for your future relationship with your child. Fortunately, parents can be a strong source of support to their divorcing children, enabling them to rebuild their lives and can also provide them with a sense of security and stability.
As a parent, not knowing what to say at times is pretty par for the course, but not knowing what to say during the complete life explosion called divorce is a different story entirely.
On top of a broken heart and the family breaking open at the seams, the things said or left unsaid could be a big part of steering your child’s heart and mind—intact—through an emotional war zone. Thankfully, there are always right words to make the hurt less and lighten the burden and allow your child to be a carefree kid, is truly double-rainbow levels of relief and happiness.
Current research has shown that divorce itself does not do damage to the children as it is the conflict that hurts them in the long run, and the desire to shield from unhealthy, unresolvable conflict. But as parents, watching your child navigate the emotional minefield of ending a marriage can trigger every fierce instinct we possess. Learning how to be supportive yet not overstep the boundaries is not an easy task for any mother. Keeping our feelings to ourselves often proves even harder. But although we can’t take this pain away from our child, there are ways we can help. Unfortunately, there are also ways we can hurt.
It’s almost always better to keep negative opinions to yourself. Even if your child was wronged, it doesn’t help to tell them they made a terrible choice for a partner or share that you knew it wasn’t going to last. It’s better to be a good listener, if your child needs to talk or vent, without judgment. And when it comes to telling others, unless you’ve been asked to spread the word, let them do the talking.
It’s not your story to tell. If there are grandchildren, be a harbour for them, especially in this storm. Let them know that your love for them and your relationship is still strong and will never change. Help them understand they can share any thoughts or concerns freely. Don’t pump them for information about what is happening at home.
If your son or daughter seems to be struggling to move forward from the divorce, encourage them however you can. Divorce can be such a blow to self-esteem and confidence. It’s not helpful to tell them how they should feel or what they should do, but let them know they may be stronger than they think and will get through this. Drawing the battle line is rarely helpful to anyone. None of us are perfect and sometimes despite our best efforts, marriages end.
On the other hand, even if you’re close to your daughter or son in-law and consider them as one of your own, your loyalty should still go first to your child. Many parent-child relationships have been strained by continuing a friendship without considering how this may make your adult child feel, particularly if they didn’t want the divorce. They may need your undivided loyalty, especially in the beginning.
A mother’s instinct to swoop in and fix the problem can be pretty strong as soon as we know our child’s in trouble, but hold back. Remember, this is an adult who doesn’t need that from you now. Ask how you can help. They may want you to play an active part or a supporting role. Divorce can bring on powerful feelings of failure and wounded self-worth. Make sure they know you’re there for them.
I’ve known parents who just couldn’t accept that their child’s marriage was over and expressed their disappointment every chance they could. It’s hard to admit that the life you wanted for your child isn’t going to happen, but it works out that way sometimes.
I know a woman who asked her daughter why she couldn’t make marriage work with a perfect husband. Remember that your words can hurt and may not ever be forgotten – or forgiven.
Divorce is hard, no matter the players, but it’s between the two people who were married and doesn’t involve you directly. Emotions run high but eventually and hopefully – everyone will find acceptance and look toward the future once again.
As parents, when our kids hurt, its pain twice magnified. We have our own sense of loss but we must also stand by and witness theirs. Making sure they know there is a safe spot to land is what they need the most. As they go through one of life’s hardest moments, don’t underestimate what it means for them to know there’s someone out there in the world that is always in their corner. As the ties between parents and adult children have grown closer over the last few decades, more parents find themselves navigating the rocky shoals of divorce, or even the breakup of long-term relationships, right along with their children.