07/05/2012 01:12 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2012

I'm Forty Years Old And My Parents Are Divorcing!

My Aunt May and Uncle Laurence are getting a divorce. My cousin Jay calls me in shock and asks, "Why in the world would people in their 60's even think about the word divorce let alone get one?!"

Because this is 2012, and it is no longer uncommon for adult children to learn that their parents are divorcing. In generations past, the idea that parents of adult children would divorce was unthinkable. This happened only in the movies or with wealthy couples in society. But today, parents in long-standing marriages do indeed get divorced.

Mom and Dad have forged strong careers, have financial success and are unwilling to remain in unhappy marriages that are unfulfilled. With a good number of years of healthy active life ahead of them, they are taking a long, hard look at the person with whom they will be spending it. They refuse to spend quality time in a miserable marriage. And who can blame them?

But the fact remains that whether you are in your twenties or in your fifties, it is still a surprise that your Mom and Dad are getting a divorce. Your reactions to the news are varied. All of a sudden, you feel like an 8-year-old kid -- surprised, confused and a little bit scared. The fact that you're an adult yourself does help to mitigate the fear somewhat, but the surprise and confusion hit you like a ton of bricks. Divorced? My parents? Why?!

"My father said that he and Mom just didn't want to be together anymore. I don't get it. Fifty-two years after you get married you suddenly don't want to live together. My sister and I are hurt and we feel betrayed by this turn of events," says Jeremy, a married 42-year-old man and father of two. "We knew that my parents fought over stupid things but they've been married for 52 years. The arguing was part of their lives and it was kind of funny. We never thought they'd get divorced at this late stage."

Betrayed is one way of putting it. No one wants to hear, "Hi kids. Sorry but we've filed for divorce."

In 2012, people in their 60s and beyond have interests and lives that your grandparents didn't have. Unlike their own parents, your parents are not willing to settle. Women no longer need the financial security of marriage and see the world differently than their own mothers did. Both men and women are making career changes in mid-life; a lot has changed for the better. Like it or not, you have to accept the changes.

As much as we'd like to think that we know all there is to know about our parents, there are certain aspects of their lives which they have kept secret. Truthfully, we only see what we want to see -- a world where Mom and Dad have their secured place in our busy lives. They're an anchor and their home is a safe harbor for us. So what can you do if you become the adult child of divorced parents? Here are a few tips to help cope:

Be Honest.
Let them know how you feel immediately. Don't save your hurt feelings for a holiday get-together where you've had a few drinks and emotions are already running high. Get it out now.

Be Sympathetic.
Try to remember that you too are an adult. Understand that while you may certainly not be happy about what has happened, your unbiased understanding is a necessity for them.

Be Supportive.
Help redecorate new residences your parents may have, be welcoming to new people in their lives, be open to discussions about family and be loving and kind. Above all, refuse to listen to one parent bashing another.

Be Neutral.
While older divorces are generally more amicable, you don't really know what caused their decision to divorce. No one but the partners themselves know what actually goes on in the daily life of a marriage. Don't lay blame on either one. You will want to stay on good terms with both mom and dad. Let them know that is what you want and be firm.

Be Realistic.
Surprise! Mommy and Daddy are sexual beings. If they date, the odds are that they will have sex with that person. Just as you are entitled to have a sex life, so are they. It is really childish to think they will be celibate. Don't be rude to someone who may become a part of your life. While your parents may hold the titles Mom and Dad, they are entitled to their own lives and identities.

Be Assured
It helps to remember one crucial thing while you're going through this -- they're divorcing each other, not you.

© 2012 copyright Kristen Houghton
"And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First" ranked in the top 100 books by Tower
new by Kristen Houghton
Kristen Houghton is the author of the hilarious new book, No Woman Diets Alone - There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut in the top 10 hot new releases at Amazon available now on Kindle, Nook, and all e-book venues.
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