This post is part three of a series.

As the divorce rate among those over 50, known as "gray divorce," continues to climb, the separations can create complex emotional landscapes and deep relationship rifts that can ripple through generations, from adult children to great-grandchildren.

The following are some reasons adult children withdraw from their relationships with their parents and some remedies that have helped.

Victim Mindset and Blaming: Matthias felt like a victim of his wife, who initiated a divorce after 36 years of marriage. His 35-year-old daughter, Greta, says, "He blamed and criticized me for continuing to have a relationship with Mutti, the German word for "mother." I kept trying to tell and show him how much I loved him. I wanted to help him stop feeling like a victim, but it was never enough. Finally, I gave up and cut myself off from him, his blame, and his criticism. I greatly miss him, but I could no longer bear it."

Remedies: Matthias saw a clergy counselor and joined a support group at the church for parents experiencing divorce. It helped him heal from his victimhood, improve his self-esteem, and learn how to accept his daughter's love and support. He shared with Greta what he learned in his individual therapy and support group. He apologized to her for the pain he had caused her. They happily reunited.

Withdrawing from the Cause of Pain: Russell and Alisa, 40-year-old fraternal twins, share that "One day out of the blue, Mom called us crying and told us Dad said he wanted a divorce and left. They were married for 42 years! Mom was in shock. We were overwhelmed with feelings — shock, sadness, grief, anxiety, fear, sadness, depression — every painful emotion you could think of! We tried to talk with Dad many times.

"All he said to Mom and us was that he wasn't happy and needed to leave. We blamed Dad for causing the demise of the family we had known since birth. We withdrew from him and did our best to support Mom, who leaned on us about everything. We didn't know how to deal with all of it. We asked her to go to family counseling with us, but she refused. Mom and Dad divorced, and Dad moved away. He never saw us, his grandchildren, or great-grandchildren again. It's a huge loss for everyone."

Remedies: One of Mom's friends referred us to a family counselor. Because her friend referred us, Mom was willing to go. After a few family sessions with Mom and us, the counselor referred her to an individual counselor, which helped her heal and move on with her life. She also joined a support group for women her age. She became more self-sufficient and returned to her passion, teaching immigrant children how to read."

Sibling Conflict: Rachel says, "During and after our parents' divorce, my 24-year-old sister Hannah aligned with our mother, my 27-year-old brother Jacob aligned with our father, and I stayed neutral to both parents. It was like they drew battle lines, creating a kind of war zone in our family. I was angry with Hannah and Jacob for not supporting me and not remaining neutral with our parents, which created a major conflict between our three siblings. Jacob and Hannah withdrew from our parents and me, and their children lost contact with our parents and extended family."

Remedies: Such conflicts can continue in families for years. Rachel spoke with the siblings' Aunt Deborah, a rabbi. All the family members trusted and respected Deborah and willingly spoke with her. Deborah helped them realize how toxic their family dynamic had become. Rabbi Deborah helped the parents develop their "divorce story," which they shared with their children, extended family, and community members. Their parents said they intended to remain amicable during and after their divorce. They told their three children and extended family members they wanted them to stay connected just as before the divorce so they would not lose their family relationships.

If your parent-adult-child and extended family relationships are estranged due to divorce, consider discussing remedies with family members and contacting a therapist, clergy member, or medical doctor for assistance.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

© 2023 Carol R. Hughes, Ph.D.

*Names and details changed to protect patient confidentiality.

Read the previous post here.

References

Brown, S. L., Lin, I.-F., Hammersmith, A., & Wright, M. R. (2019). Repartnering following gray divorce: The roles of resources and constraints for women and men. Demography, 56(2), 503–523. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0752-x

QOSHE - Why Some Adult Children of Gray Divorce Spurn Their Parents - Carol R. Hughes
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Why Some Adult Children of Gray Divorce Spurn Their Parents

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27.12.2023

This post is part three of a series.

As the divorce rate among those over 50, known as "gray divorce," continues to climb, the separations can create complex emotional landscapes and deep relationship rifts that can ripple through generations, from adult children to great-grandchildren.

The following are some reasons adult children withdraw from their relationships with their parents and some remedies that have helped.

Victim Mindset and Blaming: Matthias felt like a victim of his wife, who initiated a divorce after 36 years of marriage. His 35-year-old daughter, Greta, says, "He blamed and criticized me for continuing to have a relationship with Mutti, the German word for "mother." I kept trying to tell and show him how much I loved him. I wanted to help him stop feeling like a victim, but it was never enough. Finally, I gave up and cut myself off from him, his blame, and his criticism. I greatly miss him, but I could no longer bear it."

Remedies: Matthias saw a clergy counselor and joined a support group at the church for parents experiencing divorce. It helped him heal from his victimhood, improve his self-esteem, and learn how to accept his........

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