Post-Divorce Relationships With Adult Children



It is wise to remember that the prefrontal cortex, where most higher level thinking takes place, isn’t fully developed until the mid-late twenties. Therefore, young adults, even those with jobs, relationships, and kids of their own are very likely to make foolish decisions. They may side with one parent (typically, the one whose love they feel less sure of; or, who seems needier), keep secrets (i.e. betray one parent), and may even completely avoid contact.  All of these behaviors cause extreme pain, heartache, and despair. They don’t have to, but it’s a rare soul who can detach sufficiently during the crisis of divorce to maintain a long-term perspective.


One would think the rending of a marriage would be enough misery, but when children play favorites, shun you, betray you, or are simply too wrapped up in thier own lives to support you, it can often feel far worse than your divorce.  After all, they are your flesh and blood, your mate is not.


Hackneyed though it may be: Time does heal almost all wounds. Meanwhile, here are some things you can do to hasten the reconciliation process between you and your adult child.


Persevere. Don’t get in your child’s face, but gently, lovingly, and with regularity, show your love. Email, text, send notes, care packages (not self-help books, unless requested), mad money, invitations to come for dinner, anything your child might like.  This is not bribery. You’re not buying them a car,  you’re just making small gestures to show your involvement and love. Don’t give up, no matter how little positive feedback you get in return.  Consistency and repetition are key to teaching them the embedded lesson: you may be divorced from their other parent, but you didn’t divorce them—whatever they put you through. For them, it was unchartered territory. They had no template to work from, and may have made mistakes. We all do. Use this as an opportunity, if you are ready, to forgive them.


Be honest and speak from your heart-mind.  The best way to imagine that place is to think of your mind descending into your heart.  That’s where you’ll find the right answer. Pretending that you are fine if you’re not is no favor to anyone; nor, is it a good example.  Let them see your humanity. Show them you are congruent: you are the same inside and outside.  Kids have excellent B.S. detectors. They will intuit the truth. So, if you’re in pain, don’t pretend life is peachy. By revealing your real thoughts and feelings you give them permission to tell you theirs.  


Once you open the door, they may ask all sorts of questions.  Explain how you are still deconstructing your marriage and haven’t figured it all out. So, whatever you say could change tomorrow; but, be honest about where you are in that moment.


Take responsibility and apologize for all the collateral damage to them.  (Here’s a quick primer from Deborah Tannen, Ph.D. on how to apologize: Admit your responsibility. Express remorse. Acknowledge damage. Promise not do it again.)  


Reiterate how wonderful and lovable they are. The divorce wasn’t related to anything they did or didn’t do. 


Reassure them that marriage is still a good way to experience family life, though not the only way. Remind them that you are glad you had them and there were many happy times watching them grow up.


Make sure they know they won’t be eclipsed by a future mate’s children, or babies you might still have with someone else.  The best way to do this is to keep them front and center by spending time with them, either in person, on the phone, or virtually.


Let them be supportive of you. It’s empowering and makes them feel respected; but, do your best not to lean on them 24/7.


Be patient with their process.  It is difficult, but, whenever you can, take the long view.  However they might be behaving in the moment, underneath, they undoubtedly want a relationship with both their parents.  It’s a lot easier than cutting someone off, which creates a boat load of cognitive dissonance.   


If you aren’t ready for any of the above suggestions let that be OK.  Honor where you are through unconditionally loving and accepting yourself. Understand you’re in a state of flux. Your thoughts, feelings, and actions will change, and so will theirs.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.