When I was 27 my parents split up. They took me to a local café, bought me a milkshake and told me my mum was moving out. I couldn’t breathe.
I was only recently engaged and so at the highest high of my life, deliriously happy… I was forced to earth with the harshest of thuds.
The whole foundation of my life, my close-knit loving family, had been shattered. Irreversibly changed.
I’d seen it coming. But then again, I hadn’t. They’d been married for more than 30 years, and I just thought after that long you get your shit together and sort it out.
For my whole life to that point I’d thought theirs was an idyllic relationship, the one I always dreamed of. They held hands, they kissed each other hello and goodbye every day, they travelled, they had good friends, they rarely fought. To me, it seemed like they were best friends. Where had it all gone wrong?
The problem with being an adult child of divorce is that you understand everything that’s happening. You feel the very real and raw pain of your parents, every word that goes unsaid, and every awkwardly polite exchange.
In many ways, it’s the worst kind of break-up because (unlike your girlfriends) you can’t console one party by bitching about the other. You have to stay completely neutral, try not to lay blame and be on everyone’s side. It’s exhausting.
The thing is, no one seems to realise how hard it is. Most seem to think it’s no big deal. So many times I’ve been told, “Well at least it didn’t happen when you were young”, and that’s true. I don’t live at home and I have my own life. But the reason I had the confidence to tackle the big wide world head-on was that I had that solid base to start from and return to if anything went wrong. Without that, I felt completely lost, as though the rug had been pulled right from under me.
It’s not just my family going through this. Separation in couples over 50 is rapidly increasing. In fact it’s doubled in 20 years, a phenomenon known as “The Grey Divorce”. Most of those couples leave behind adult children, forced to navigate a new family dynamic, which can be incredibly tricky.
I do realise that whatever I’m going through is nothing compared with my parents. As much as it’s changed my life – I still have my loving husband to go home to. They made it through the largest part of forever, only to have to start again.
But I’ll admit it’s forced me to ask myself, “How can I now believe in my own happy ever after?” The answer to that one is simple…I’m not my parents. And their experience has taught me you can never stop working on your relationship. Never take your eyes off the prize.
What I don’t have the answer to is how this new-look family will work. I’ve spent all of my life having a stable family home. I have no idea how to cope with ‘the team’ divided. There’s so much said about how parents should handle a divorce when children are involved, but I’ll admit I’m completely lost with how adult children should handle their parents.
The author of this article is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous.
Are your parents still together? Have you ever had an experience with ‘grey divorce’?
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