How To Tell Adult Children About Your Separation

Elderly parents telling their adult child they're separating

Separation and divorce are hard on children. Frankly, it’s hard on everyone, adult children included. Often separating couples see their adult children as being more able to cope with their parents’ separation than younger children. I am not sure this is true.

Erica Manfred is the author of “He’s History, You’re Not: Surviving Divorce After Forty.” and recently authored an interesting article in the Huffington Post about how to tell adult children of your divorce.

She offers eight “rules”:

  1. Give the news in a compassionate way. Don’t just email, text or phone them. Do it in person.
  2. Don’t lie. Tell them the truth about your marriage.
  3. Show empathy. Try to support your children.  It’s hard for them too.
  4. Don’t put them in the middle. Don’t ask your kids to take sides.
  5. Don’t depend on your children for advice. This is another way of putting them in the middle. Let them love both parents.
  6. Don’t ever tell them “you’re the reason we stayed together”. This can make your children feel guilty and feel that their whole childhood was a sham.
  7. Call a truce with your Ex. You will always be connected with your spouse through your children so try to get along.
  8. Don’t shove your new boyfriend or girlfriend down your kids’ throats. It is just too awkward and could lead to resentment. Give them time to adjust.

I agree with all of these suggested rules except for the second one. Erica suggests that you should tell your adult children the reasons for the divorce. She says if there was an affair, be honest about it.

I feel that telling your children about the reasons for the marriage ending will likely cause the children to take sides. This is not helpful to your children. They ought to be able to maintain a relationship with both parents. The problems you two had have nothing to do with their relationship with each parent. Telling them about the affair can only lead to more strife and the children feeling caught in the middle.

Some may argue that adult children are better able to cope and understand their parents’ separation yet I argue they are still your children. Let me give you an example. Intellectually, your adult children know that you have a sex life whereas when your children were young, they had no idea. Young children walking in on their parents making love is shocking. Walking in on mom and dad having sex would be just as awkward and disturbing to the adult child. Just imagine it for yourself! Yuck!

Likewise, learning the sordid facts around the breakdown of your marriage would be at the very least awkward and at the worst, repulsive. Simply put, I don’t see how it could benefit your children. They will tend to take sides and “divorce” one of their parents. Don’t make your adult children casualties of your divorce.

Otherwise, I like the advice offered by Erica. Be sensitive to your adult children when you tell them you are getting a divorce. Treat them the same way you would if they were still your cute little bundles of joy even if they are now your adult, money-sucking, know-it-all children. Either way, they are still your darling children.

Related: Separation Agreements

Brian Galbraith

Brian Galbraith is the owner and founder of Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation. Brian is known in the legal community for his commitment to efficiently practicing family law using technology and streamlining the divorce processes.

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