My Parents Just Got Divorced. What Do I Tell My Kids?

My parents just got divorced. Why now? They were together for over 40 years. I was shocked when they told me, a few months ago, what they were doing. Now that the divorce is final, I’m still making sense of it.

How do I explain it to my kids? They need to understand that Grandma and Grandpa will be living in separate places. I’ve told my kids that Grandpa will be moving to a new place soon. I can tell that they are wondering why, but I’m at a loss for how to explain it. Grandpa’s new place will have a pool, and they are excited. Children are resilient like that.

In some ways, the split is less of a shock for my kids. For a while, we’ve been having separate activities with Grandma and Grandpa. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a big family dinner that wasn’t a struggle for everyone to stay on their best behavior.

Why now? Growing up, I was a bystander for dramatic arguments and chilling silences. I survived that stress. What was the point? Now, they decide they can’t make it work anymore?

If my parents’ divorce had happened when I was younger, I might have given in to the urge to rebel and throw all of their advice, good and bad, into the trash can. I’m mature enough to know that some of their advice has been good advice, while some of their advice was destructive and misleading.

Here are the things I do differently in my marriage:

  1. I keep doing date night often. My parents stopped doing that years ago; they developed separate activities and groups of friends. My husband and I like date night because it’s time to focus on each other and talk about things we both care about (besides our kids). It’s a kind of fun we can only have with the two of us.
  2. I plan for the empty nest. My parents struggled to find things to do together that did not center on their children or grandchildren. I will remember that there are worlds to explore that do not involve parenting or raising children.
  3. My husband and I raise our children to be independent. I love my kids as kids, but I hope someday they are adults who don’t need me as much. I hope they call me to check in, but not to ask me to make decisions for them. I will let them fail in small ways when they are young; I want them to be resilient adults who always keep forging ahead.
  4. I remember the joy of service. My husband is a special person to me, even when I am picking his dirty socks off the floor. He does selfless things for me, too. There is a joy in being together that goes beyond the romantic date nights, or the excitement of advancing our careers. Our marriage is something greater than us as two individuals: it’s a bond between two people caring for each other through good times and hard times.

Does counseling help a marriage to stay together? It can. It depends on the therapist. If your goal is to stay together, find a counselor who values marriage and will help you grow in ways to strengthen the marriage. Some counselors are more interested in treating an individual and will put a lower priority on improving the marriage.

What will the next chapter be like in my parents’ separate lives? Although they are not really facing it, they are are getting old. Will they be lonely? Will they be able to fulfill the goals that they were not able to fulfill while married? Will they pick up new hobbies and friendships? It’s hard to picture them in new romantic relationships, but I suppose it’s possible. How will the challenges of aging and eldercare unfold for them?

My parents’ wedding rings were handmade by an artisan in a cool beach town. They had worn down over the years, but still had a unique look. Now, my parents have taken off their rings, leaving pale, indented places on their fingers. So strange.

It’s humbling to me to think about how my parents’ marriage has ended. Sometimes, all the struggle doesn’t lead to some great triumph… It just fizzles out. My takeaway is to try to make each moment of a marriage meaningful because you never know what the future holds.

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