Our Best Tips On Handling Your Parents Divorcing As An Adult

Dealing with divorcing parents isn't something only young children go through — adults can go through it, too. According to data from Pew Research Center, gray divorces, or divorces among people aged 50 and older, have been on the rise in recent years. Now, more couples are deciding to call it quits in their 50s, 60s, and beyond. Moreover, some parents choose to divorce soon after their children grow up and move out, a common symptom of empty nest syndrome, per Equitable Mediation.


Even if it's not unusual to witness your parents divorce as an adult, that doesn't make it any easier. "Divorce can cause trauma because it can make the child feel a deep sense of loss as well as grief," psychologist Luis D. L. Ramirez II explained to PsychCentral — and nope, you're never too old to feel shaken up by family changes. If you're struggling to cope with your parents' divorce, use these tips to stay balanced amid the family drama.

Avoid pointing the finger

Learning that your parents are divorcing can be a shock, and one way you might try to make sense of what's going on is by finding someone to blame. Your parents may even try to get you on their side by explaining what the other did wrong. However, staying as neutral as possible can help you navigate the news better in the end. "It's okay not to choose sides; you can support without choosing," collaborative facilitator and certified family mediator Dr. Randy Heller shared with Fatherly. Even if you're an adult now, your parents are still your parents. Heller says that children "have to learn to separate what happens between parents and what happens between parents and themselves." In other words, what happened in your parents' marriage isn't really your business and doesn't need to come between you and them.


If your parents do try to drag you into the middle of the drama, set clear boundaries. Tell them you're no longer available to discuss the details of the divorce, though you are still there to offer support in other ways.

Besides not casting blame on either parent, it's also important to not blame yourself for what happened. It's common for children (including adult children) of divorce to believe they could've fixed things or prevented their parents' breakup. If you start to feel guilty or responsible for the divorce, remind yourself that their decision wasn't your fault.

Notice and embrace your feelings

Dealing with the divorce of your parents is hard at any age. But if you're already grown up, you might think you should be able to handle it on your own with ease. Family counselor Ray Medhora told Hack that adult children of divorce are often assumed to be largely unaffected by the split, given that they no longer live in the family home. "Society gives children more permission to behave their feelings and have a bigger reaction to their parents separating," he explained, adding, "The hardest thing we do as humans is invalidate our own feelings."


According to TheHopeLine, an organization that supports students and young adults in crisis, it's normal to feel a range of emotions during your parents' divorce. You may feel ashamed, numb, scared, hopeless, relieved, distrustful, or anything in between. Noticing and accepting these feelings can help you move through the grieving process at your own pace.

If you've been ignoring or judging your feelings, try taking a different approach. Spend a little time each day checking in with yourself, noticing what emotions arise and letting them come and go on their own.

Allow yourself to see your parents a little differently

Your parents may have seemed like superheroes when you were younger, hugging you when you were scared and bandaging up your worst playground scrapes. It can be hard to view them as anything but infallible, even as you get older. A divorce can be a tough reminder that they, too, are imperfect humans.


Relationship therapist Rachel Sussman revealed to Insider, "There's a dynamic with even adults that when they're with their parents, they can feel a little childlike and they want to be cared for by their parents." But when their parents divorce, she says, "It feels like that last security blanket is being ripped out from under them."

Though it can be challenging, allow yourself to see your parents as the multifaceted people they are. They're still your parents, but they're also humans who stumble and struggle at times. Licensed professional counselor Catherine Richardson suggests being patient with parents as they go through their own life changes and "learn to live alone" again (via PureWow). And don't be surprised if they cope with the divorce in uncharacteristic ways, like by socializing with a new group of friends, taking up an unusual hobby, or trying their hand at dating.


Stabilize yourself with self-care

If your parents are usually your rock, their divorce can make it feel like your world is turning upside down. If you were still a child living under their roof, you would likely have to go through an entire life shake-up — changing schools, moving houses, and splitting time between two different places, for example. But as an adult, you have the freedom to build your life as you wish and create your own stability, even when your family structure is changing.


One way to do this is by strengthening your self-care habits. "Self-care is anything that we kind of deliberately do or refrain from doing with our own well-being in mind, anything that promotes our own physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual well-being," psychologist Dr. Matthew Sacco told Cleveland Clinic.

A break in the family can be an opportunity to ground yourself in healthy habits and stress relief tools. At a minimum, take care of your body — continue eating regularly, resting as normal, and maintaining an exercise routine. Then, add in other self-care practices like meditating, listening to uplifting music, or occasionally vegging out in front of your favorite TV series.

Find support

Reaching out to friends, siblings, and other trusted people in your life can make all the difference when navigating family issues. Though you may not want to talk about your parents' divorce at first — and there's nothing wrong with immersing yourself in social activities for a little distraction now and then — discussing what you're going through with other people might help you overcome it. A 2016 study published in Psychological Science found that putting your experience into words reduces stress responses in the brain, meaning you'll feel less emotionally overwhelmed the more you talk about what's bothering you.


If verbalizing your feelings with friends or family doesn't seem to help, talk therapy may be a better option. "A young adult can talk with their therapist or counselor about different emotions and triggers related to parental divorce and family separation," licensed marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind, LMFT, shared with Well+Good. She added that, in some cases, you may want to bring one or both of your parents to your therapy sessions to discuss issues like holiday plans and living arrangements.

Remember, just because you're an adult doesn't mean you have to navigate your parents' divorce on your own, nor does it mean you should already have all the answers. Admit when you need a shoulder to lean on or a listening ear to confide in.