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The Impact of Separation on Your Adult Children

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 12 Nov 2019 | comments*Discuss
Adult Children Separation Parents

It can be easy to overlook the impact of your separation on your adult children. You can think that because they have left home and have lives and families of their own that their parents’ separation will not affect them.

The truth is, your separation can have a massive impact on your adult children for a number of reasons. That is in no way to say that you should not go ahead with a separation that you want for this reason, far from it, but you do need to be prepared to deal with the fall-out of your decision.

A Surprise Separation

It can be very hard for adult children to deal with a surprise separation. Many parents have bad relationships but are somehow able to hide their difficulties, or parents who have a good relationship that quickly breaks down for whatever reason and want to split up straightaway. This is exacerbated by the very fact that your adult children are no longer there to see the day to day reality of your relationship.

Whatever the reason, a surprise separation can be very difficult as there has been no time to get used to it. Even though you will be dealing with your own pain and practical issues due to the separation, you need to accept that you must still be available to talk to your adult children about how they feel. Be careful not to lean on them too much. Although a brief swap round of the parent/child relationship is not too damaging if you can all handle it, don’t bad mouth your ex-partner – their parent – if you want to maintain a healthy relationship.

Separation after a Bad Marriage

Just because many people can cover up a bad relationship, most people can’t and you will be painfully surprised to realise just how much your adult children know about how bad your relationship is. Be aware that even if your adult children don’t know the actual details about your relationship, whether that’s affairs, money issues, addictions or whatever, they will know there is something wrong. More than likely they will blame themselves and think that they should or could have made a difference.

Your relationship issues will also be the blue-print for your adult children’s own relationships. If they’ve seen their mother put up with a domineering husband, or their father cover up for an alcoholic mother, then you are essentially telling them that this is acceptable behaviour. Although the separation will impact on them, you will at least have this opportunity to say that you can have healthier relationships and that it is right to leave a bad marriage that is unsalvageable.

Separating after a Good Marriage

There’s the rub. You may want to separate, but if your adult children feel that you have not made enough effort to make the marriage work, you will either need to explain to them why the relationship was unsalvageable or why you want to leave anyway.

You must give your adult children credit for being able to discuss relationships in an open, truthful manner. Although you still must not bad mouth your partner to their children, you can be honest to a point. No secrets or unnecessary details are a good starting place, even though you will need to be tactful and eloquent in how you discuss the separation.

Above all, give your adult children time to come to terms with the fact that the reality of their childhood may differ to what they thought, and this can take time and be very painful.

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