Picture the figurative home landscape of an adult child before the divorce of his/her parents.
Often it is a home that is familiar, warm, safe and although there may be rooms that need remodeling and overdue repair needed in the yard, there is still a certain routine, and expectation of what is allowed in and out of the area, as well as what freedoms and securities are experienced as people move within its rooms.
Now picture the figurative home landscape of an adult child after his/her parents divorce.
Often it becomes unfamiliar, cold and dangerous. The rooms are filled with skeletons and things that used to appear hidden from view. The yard may be filled with landmines that probably always have been there, but now they are likely to explode.
People on the outside may peer into the windows uninvited, and it is uncomfortable to have the shades open now.
The adult child who once had gone to his/her parents for protection and had learned to relax within a home with open doors and fences, now realizes the need to protect self and others.
The boundaries now are necessary as safety and security are threatened. These new boundaries are unfamiliar, but often adult children of divorce need to set them in place.
The word picture above is not perfect in analogy, but it is meant to help us through one of the very most difficult things adults face when their parents divorce. If you are a small child and your parents divorce, it is likely that your parents will attempt to protect you from details, conversations and the responsibility of any adult issues. But as many adult children of divorce can attest to, the fallout weighs down on us. We feel a responsibility that younger kids of divorce don't sense. Parents don't do this to adult children on purpose. It is often a reaction to their deep pain and need. Depending on the parents age, it may be necessary to lean on adult children or want to be able to depend on someone!
Parents confide in us, they may need help cooking for themselves, or paying bills. They may have financial issues they didn't have before their divorce or a physical need no longer helped by the spouse who has left. It is natural that the parent would seek help from an adult child or children, and it is natural that an adult child would want to be there for a parent or both parents. In the past , you were there for each other. What does that mean now?
Just today while reading the Adult Kids of Divorce forum on Yuku, I read several posts from people who were trying to stay out of the middle, and trying not to take sides, but were finding that to be almost impossible. Many were expressing how each parent talks negatively about the other parent, how the lies of one parent or both were continuing and how these adult children feel guilt, torn and in a situation where they "can't win". Some of the participants were expressing the reality of boundaries or distance or even cutting off contact. These are excruciating parts of being an ACOD. But it is crucial that you determine your own boundaries. It is time for self-protection and self-preservation. It is time to decide what you can and can't do , and what you will and won't do . I will include some guidelines that have helped me, but this is not a thing to take lightly.
This is a delicate balance between what is good for you, good for each parent and good for those around you. It is a balance between grace ( kindness extended ) and mercy ( not giving what is deserved). It is a time to assess ( what is true at the time) and not judge ( give a final verdict with no chance for change). It is not always a "good guy" /"bad guy" setup, but you may choose to support one parent more than the other based on what is right. Some helpful DO's and DONT's follow. I am praying they lead you to wisdom.
- DON'T agree to listen to or agree with everything. Learn to say NO and
- "enough is enough". Monitor what goes in and out of your mind and guard that
- DON'T take all the initiative for the relationship and communication. It is OK to wait to see how each parent approaches you
- DON'T be afraid to close the door , or leave it cracked open, but try to keep the welcome mat out if you feel it is safe to do so
- DON'T become your parent's counselor. Encourage them to get help from others
- DO keep contact as you are able, but some distance is not bad. It can be helpful
- DO speak up against things that are wrong or hurtful. If abuse or violence are occurring at the hands of one parent, you need to intervene. And if there is danger to you or your children, you may need to be more careful with interactions or end them
- DO gather your siblings if they agree;decide how to approach parents in a united way
- DO give respect to each parent as a human being. Be kind, but firm.
The landscape in which you find yourself is not the home with open doors and an unfenced yard anymore. But doors and fences are not always bad things. They can be good for safety and the health of relationships in the future. Be brave and careful while establishing new boundaries, while trying to keep the lines of communication open.
You may want to read another article about this issue that I have linked here
I'D LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT HOW YOU HAVE DEALT WITH NEW BOUNDARIES.
Leave me a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next post we will move into the topic of Acceptance in our grief series.