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Anyone who’s ever been through a divorce knows the heartache involved. Broken promises and dreams. A future forever altered. But as parents, watching your child navigate the emotional minefield of ending a marriage can trigger every fierce instinct we possess.
Learning how to be supportive yet not overstep the boundaries is not an easy task for any mother. Keeping our feelings to ourselves often proves even harder. But although we can’t take this pain away from our child, there are ways we can help. Unfortunately, there are also ways we can hurt.
Here are a few guidelines to consider if you’re struggling to find your place while trying to help them recover from one of life’s hardest curves.
1. It’s almost always better to keep negative opinions of your soon to be ex in-law to yourself. Even if your child was wronged, it doesn’t help to tell them they made a terrible choice for a partner or share that you knew it wasn’t going to last. It’s better to be a good listener, if your child needs to talk or vent, without judgment. And when it comes to telling others, unless you’ve been asked to spread the word, let them do the talking. It’s not your story to tell.
2. If there are grandchildren, be a harbor for them, especially in this storm. Let them know that your love for them and your relationship is still strong and will never change. Help them understand they can share any thoughts or concerns freely. Don’t pump them for information about what is happening at home, like whether mom or dad is dating or spending enough time with them. Always remember that your child’s ex is still your grandchild’s parent.
3. If your son or daughter seems to be struggling to move forward from the divorce, encourage them however you can. Divorce can be such a blow to self-esteem and confidence. It’s not helpful to tell them how they should feel or what they should do, but let them know they may be stronger than they think and will get through this.
4. As much as possible, try to remain positive with the relationships that have grown from their marriage, including the other set of grandparents. Drawing the battle line is rarely helpful to anyone. None of us are perfect and sometimes despite our best efforts, marriages end. Feelings toward others won’t end just because they’re no longer legally a part of the family. If there are grandchildren, remember you will likely see this side of the family again for birthdays, graduations and other life events.
1. On the other hand, even if you’re close to your daughter or son in-law and consider them as one of your own, your loyalty should still go first to your child. Many parent-child relationships have been strained by continuing a friendship without considering how this may make your adult child feel, particularly if they didn’t want the divorce. They may need your undivided loyalty, especially in the beginning.
2. A mother’s instinct to swoop in and fix the problem can be pretty strong as soon as we know our child’s in trouble, but hold yourself back. Remember, this is an adult who doesn’t need that from you now. Ask how you can help. They may want you to play an active part or a supporting role. Divorce can bring on powerful feelings of failure and wounded self-worth. Make sure they know you’re there for them.
3. For most divorces, it’s not just one person’s fault, but it will be harder for you if it was your child mainly responsible for the split. Unless they want to share, don’t pry into their life to find out what happened. This is not the time to blame or point out their shortcomings or look for faults in their spouse in an effort to balance out the guilt. And don’t make this about you, no matter how disappointed you feel or loved their soon-to-be-ex.
4. Let it go. I’ve known parents who just couldn’t accept that their child’s marriage was over and expressed their disappointment every chance they could. It’s hard to admit that the life you wanted for your child isn’t going to happen, but it works out that way sometimes. I know a woman who asked her daughter why she couldn’t make marriage work with a perfect husband. Remember that your words can hurt and may not ever be forgotten – or forgiven.
Divorce is hard, no matter the players, but it’s between the two people who were married and doesn’t involve you directly. Emotions run high but eventually and hopefully – everyone will find acceptance and look toward the future once again.
As parents, when our kids hurt, it’s pain twice magnified. We have our own sense of loss but also must stand by and witness theirs. It’s not always easy knowing where we belong in an adult child’s life. But making sure they know there’s a safe spot to land may be what they need the most. As they go through one
of life’s hardest moments, don’t underestimate what it means for them to know there’s someone out there in the world who is always in their corner.
And that’s a place where we’ve always been.
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