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Erica Manfred

Erica Manfred

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How to Break It to the (Grown) Kids

Posted: 06/ 6/11 11:29 AM ET

The worst thing you can do when you tell your grown kids about your divorce is to expect them not to feel strong emotions, not to feel grief and pain just as you do. Adult children struggle with divorce the same way young children do. Parents expect them to shrug off their split, as if the breakup of the family should no longer concern their grown kids because pieces of their adult lives are in place. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your kids may try to appear stronger than they are, they may appear as if they know what's best. But they're kids and they want to be able to call their mom or dad when they're hurting. You always want to go home again no matter what.

Give them the news in a compassionate way
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College students even have a name for it: "The Freshman Call." Parents wait until their child has finished high school and is off to college before getting a divorce, which they, or at least one of them, may have been planning for a long time. Their son or daughter is already going through the disorientation of being away from home for the first time, adjusting to being on his or her own, and hearing that her family is disintegrating can be profoundly disorienting.

Don't announce the divorce on the phone. "The hardest thing is when you're away from home and the entire divorce plays out over the phone and email," says Brooke Lea Foster, author of The Way They Were; Dealing With Your Parents Divorce After Lifetime of Marriage, who went through her parents divorce herself over the phone. "It's horrible. You get snippets and constantly feel like you should be there. You feel guilty, embarrassed. You're just getting to know people at college and are too embarrassed to be crying about mom and dad when you're being an adult for the first time. When you leave home you rely on home to ground you, when home has an earthquake rumbling under it you're thrown for a loop"

Don't announce it at Christmas dinner either. Your children will feel blindsided if they come home for the holidays only to find out their parents are getting divorced.

Actually the best way to tell adult children about your divorce is the same way the experts recommend telling small children. If at all possible, you and your spouse should sit down with them together when they have some time to digest the news and talk to them about it together. If your children are in college, wait until they're home for a long break. Adult children bitterly resent it when the feel that the news has been communicated in a sneaky, indirect, dishonest, humiliating or unnecessarily brutal way. They especially resent it when they are left to break the news to the other parent.
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