How To Cope With the Sudden News of Your Parents’ Divorce As an Adult

Photo: Getty Images/Tom Werner
In the first week of 2021, my mother sent me a text at 11 p.m. that read, “Your father and I are going to get a divorce. I’m moving out in March.” Within seconds, my entire world flipped upside down. After over 25 years together—longer than my entire life—my parents were breaking up, and I learned about it from a text message before I went to sleep. I was beside myself.

I knew my parents had their issues, but that didn't make processing this news any easier for me. Even as an adult in her twenties who recognizes that her parents are fallible human beings, news of parents divorcing can be traumatic, to say the least. Change is always hard, and this specific change has the power to alter everything you once knew about your family dynamic.

Experts In This Article

That said, after taking some time to introspect and consult with mental health professionals, I've learned several coping skills for dealing with news of parents' divorce as an adult. Because, no, it's not easy even if you're all grown up.

4 expert tips for dealing with your parents' divorce as an adult

1. Be open, but leave out details

My family and I have always prided ourselves on being transparent. When we saw each other for the first time after I received the text announcing the breakup, they shared all the background information: I learned why they were separating, when they were moving out, and they checked in with me. They were open, caring, and crucially did not bash each other.

“Parents who want to help their children should be as open as they can be [about] what led to the divorce without disparaging the other parent or divulging too many details about the relationship," says therapist and author Deedee Cummings, LPCC.

If your parents are having trouble with remaining respectful of each other in their communication with you, you can communicate a boundary. Share that you don't feel comfortable being put in the middle, and perhaps even discuss certain topics that are off limits, depending on your comfort level. For instance, consider whether you'd prefer they keep any notions of dating to themselves. And if all else fails, be direct with your boundary, and ask them to share their feelings with their friends or therapist rather than you.

2. Try therapy—by yourself or with your parents

According to licensed marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind, LMFT, seeking therapy can help a young adult navigating news of their parents' divorce. "A young adult can talk with their therapist or counselor about different emotions and triggers related to parental divorce and family separation,” she says. “Children and young adults may blame themselves, so therapy can help remove self-blame.”

And, Ziskind adds, seeking therapy with your parents joining you can also provide relief. “A young adult might have fears and concerns that they might want to address in family counseling sessions, such as the plans for holidays, where they stay when they come home from college, and where their parents will live once divorced.”

3. Accept your emotions

“Hearing the news that your parents are divorcing can be difficult at any age," says licensed marriage and family therapist Dezryelle Arcieri, LMFT. But, she adds, whether you felt scared, confused, shocked, or even happy and relieved by news you believed to be a long time coming, it's important to accept your authentic feeling. “Whatever you are feeling, please acknowledge and honor that all feelings are normal and to be expected.”

4. Practice self-care

During this time, sticking to self-care practices that fill your cup, so to speak, stand to help you navigate the situation. Dealing with your parents' divorce "can be an opportunity to improve self-care practices such as finding stress outlets, healthy hobbies, surrounding yourself with nurturing friendships, and even joining social media support groups, like a group on Facebook for other children of divorced parents,” says Ziskind.

Ultimately, my biggest learnings from coping with my parents' divorce as an adult has been in working to know and honor my own boundaries. I've started conversations about topics that are off-limits and generated ideas about things we can do together as a family. I've found myself as the meditator in a very odd situation—but at a level of openness that I am comfortable with.

I now enjoy and value my time with each of my parents separately. And, if I'm being honest with myself, even more so than when they were together. I feel like I've become closer with both of them, despite the circumstances. And that's a silver lining I can happily live with.

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