How to tell your adult children that you’re divorcing

The divorce rate in the U.S. has been steadily climbing for decades. But for adults over 50, this growth has been markedly higher than other demographics.

So-called “gray divorce” is 109% more common than it was in 1990. When older couples decide to part ways after decades together, it has a different impact on the family than when younger couples divorce. Finding the right way to break the news to your adult children is important. Here are some best practices to get you started:

  • Tell them together. If possible, you and your ex should gather all of your children together and tell the news to them at the same time – in person. If this is not possible, try to arrange for a video chat with your children. Delaying this conversation with any one child increases the risk of them hearing the news from someone other than you.
  • Speak no evil. If your marriage ended on bad terms, avoid the temptation to cast blame or speak poorly of your ex-spouse to your children. Even if there was a breach of trust in your marriage, you don’t want to say anything to your children that could sully their relationship with their other parent – or make your children feel as though they need to pick sides.
  • Brutal honesty can cause guilt. You want to be truthful with your kids, but you also don’t want to say anything that could make them feel at fault. For instance, telling your children that you and your ex-spouse stayed together for so many years for their sake could make them feel responsible. Similarly, telling your children that your ex-spouse had an affair can make them feel bad for wanting to continue to have a relationship with that parent.
  • Give them time and space. Everyone processes this news differently. Your children may become emotionally charged, or they may need some time alone to absorb what is happening. Let them know that you are here for them – on their terms. Try to stay calm and move the conversation in a positive, healthy direction.
  • Anticipate changes. Divorce represents a sudden loss of many family traditions that make us feel safe and secure. Your children may have questions about how your divorce will impact family holidays or involvement in their grandchildren’s lives. It can be helpful to come up with answers to these questions ahead of time.

Above all, it’s important to approach the conversation with empathy – while also being clear about your decision. Helping them to understand why gray divorce is the best decision for you can help them to accept the news.

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