How Can I Stay Out of My Parents’ Divorce?
No matter how old you are, it can still rock your world when you learn of your parents’ intent to divorce. These two people are the very foundation of your past, your memories, and your upbringing. Every holiday, every birthday, every graduation, every pivotal moment of your life likely centered around them and your own personal family “story.”
However, whether the divorce surprises you or not, it’s important to maintain boundaries and not get caught up in the dynamics that may arise between your parents in their new identity: divorcing spouses.
Setting boundaries at any age
Setting and maintaining boundaries is an important aspect of establishing what you want and expect from those around you. When you establish limitations and someone crosses them, you know it from the resulting feelings you experience, particularly when you feel resentful or taken advantage of.
Protecting boundaries is important to your mental health and maturity. But what happens when your parents become the ones to push your boundaries, and you suddenly feel like you’re being manipulated or catapulted back to your childhood?
For kids at home
Young children of divorce will not have the sense of self to establish boundaries with their divorcing parents, so it’s important for parents not to put them in the middle. When children are young, boundary-setting must be done by the divorcing parents.
For young adults
In young adulthood, kids may feel caught in the middle of their parents’ divorce, perhaps being asked to take sides or listen to one parent complain about the other. For young adults who still live with their parents, establishing and maintaining these boundaries can be challenging, but they can shut it down by refusing to side with one parent or take part in parent-bashing.
For adult children of aging parents
When children of divorcing parents are adults, they are better able to establish good boundaries. But even then, it can be difficult, especially if they feel drawn to the plight of one parent over the other. It’s at this stage that they can be most effective at standing their ground and refusing to take part in the push and pull of their parents’ divorce.
If you’re being drawn into the stress of your parents’ divorce, check your own emotions. How has this impacted your vision of your life? Have you been personally triggered by your parents’ divorce? Your feelings are valid, and you have every right to grieve. But you also have the right to your own mental health by allowing your parents to fight their own battles.
- Don’t let yourself become their messenger. Your parents need to communicate with each other. If you do the communicating for them, it only hurts you … and possibly your relationship with both of them.
- It’s not your fault. Although, as an adult, you probably already know this, you may have taken on some sense of guilt and remorse regarding their divorce. Maybe you worry that your parents stayed together when they didn't want to on your behalf. Or, maybe you worry that you inadvertently caused their relationship to fail. The truth is, it's not your fault. It’s their marriage, and it is completely their responsibility – not yours.
- Find ways to deal with the stress. Stress can harm your emotional and physical health, and it certainly won’t help your parents. Find positive ways to deal with your stress so you can be more valuable to them once they work out their own issues.
- Communicate with your parents. As an adult, you have the right to tell your parents that you expect them to honor the parent/child relationship. You love and want to maintain a relationship with both of them, and you don’t want to be placed in the middle of their disagreements.
Divorce is difficult not only for the divorcing couple but also for others in the family. Whether you are a young child or an adult child of divorce, your health and well-being should not be collateral damage in your parents’ divorce. Setting boundaries is essential for anyone who is navigating a divorce or feels caught up in a family member’s divorce.
You may consider getting the help of a therapist or support group to help you understand these dynamics and protect your mental health in the process. At Hello Divorce, we are committed to helping families navigate divorce, enabling them to look forward to the future with optimism.
Suggested reading: What It’s Like Being the Kid of Parents Who Divorced Wisely