THE BLOG
11/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Handle Divorcing Parents When You're An Adult

Dear Christine,
My parents are getting a divorce after 30 years of marriage. I knew their marriage wasn't perfect, but I never thought it would end. Although I am grown up at 25, I am really sad and angry over this. I feel like they are giving up and our whole family is now in shambles; I want to step in and try to help them reconcile because I think this is a mistake. Plus it makes me never want to get married if my own parents can't even make it work. How do I handle this?
- Split over my parents split, 25, Houston

Dear Split over my parents split,

No matter how old you are the divorce of your parents is difficult, so allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. You may chronologically be an adult but this may trigger very childlike feelings and memories. Be gentle with yourself as you go through all the natural feelings of sadness, confusion, and anger. I also encourage you to seek out some kind of therapist or coach during this time to keep you focused on your own healing and support you in resisting the temptation to get involved in their life. Get your own counselor, don't be theirs and don't expect them to be yours either.

I suggest that you do not talk about the divorce too much with either parent or entertain any type of "he said/she said." It's common for parents to want to vent to their children; so if one, or both, of your parents begins to talk to you too much about the other, or you feel like you are pressured to pick sides, I encourage you to put a stop to it. Say something like, "Mom or Dad, I love you but it's really hard for me when you talk negatively about my other parent. Can we just talk about how you are doing instead?"

Your desire to help them stay together is also very normal and probably two-fold. First, you hate to see their marriage end because it represents the foundation on which your life was built. Second, by focusing on what you can do to get them to stay together, you can ease and/or avoid your unsettling feelings about them splitting apart. But here's the truth: you really do not know the intricacies of your parents' marriage and this separation may be the best possible thing for both of them.
They've been together your entire life so it's incredibly difficult to see them apart. But keep in mind that they are individuals aside from being a parental entity with hopes, dreams, and frustrations just like anyone else. And because you love them, it's important to put aside your judgment. See them as searching for a way to be happy and complete even if it's not in the way you envisioned.

Being an adult child of a divorce can make you feel like a child again as can trigger all sorts of feelings and memories. It's important to keep in mind that their divorce has absolutely nothing to do with you - you did nothing to cause it and can do nothing to prevent it. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve. Journal, talk about it with your friends, dive into your spiritual/religious practices if you have them and spend time parenting yourself.

Our mind likes to take over during challenging times but over-thinking, analyzing and forming conclusions is a way to avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings. Avoid making any decisions about marriage in general. Any beliefs that you start to lay down during this time will be formative to your own future relationships so tread lightly. You are not your parents and your relationship and possible future marriage will be different, especially if you really take this time to heal. This marriage served them both and, hey, it brought you into the world! Just because a relationship ends, does not mean it is a failure.

Any way you slice it, this situation is not easy - you just have to get through it. Remember the good memories you had growing up as a nuclear family and be grateful that you had that experience for as long as you did. Things are just going to be a little different moving forward than you planned on. Let go of your expectation that they were supposed to be together forever. Who knows, apart your parents could blossom into happier individuals and your relationship with each of them may be even better.

- Christine
Please send me your questions by posting them in the comments section below. You can also email me at christineAThuffingtonpost.com