Here, tips on how to ease their stress
Special holidays and other occasions like birthdays and weddings can be especially stressful for adult children of divorced parents. But it doesn't have to be that way.
"Children are innocent victims of divorce but they can do really well if the parents have handled things positively right from the start," says Gwen Randall-Young, an award-winning psychologist from the Edmonton area and a divorced mother of three adult children. "It's important to remember that with divorce their world is suddenly divided into two. The parents each still have their one world, but the children have Mom's world and Dad's world."
And those worlds often come loaded with each parent's expectations – including hopes of fairness and equality – all of which causes stress for the children trying to navigate them.
"While growing up it's the parents' jobs to keep things fair for the children – as in if you buy a present for one child, you buy one for the other too – but it's not the children's job when they grow up to keep things fair for Mom and Dad," says Gwen. "That's because fair is for children. Wise adults don't keep score. The inner child in the parent might say, 'oh, you're spending more time with your Dad than with me,' but that's not a wise adult response and it creates so much stress for the child. "
Here are Gwen's top tips for divorced parents who want their adult children to actually be able to enjoy holidays and special occasions:
1) Parents, adjust your plans to fit the kids' plans, not the other way around. "It's the parents who need to be adaptable. And don't expect them to always be with you on the actual day – be it Christmas, Easter or birthdays." As Gwen points out, if your adult kids are married and their spouses also have divorced parents, there can be four or more parents to accommodate at big events. "Celebrate together when it can work for everybody. Be flexible."
2) Don't ever pull a guilt trip. "Don't say anything if they don't put you first or if they spend more time with the other parent. Just enjoy them and be positive when they are with you," Gwen advises. "That will also make them want to spend more time with you. If you're pouty, they won't want to be around that."
3) When adult kids get married: "Parents need to be gracious and get along throughout the planning stage and the actual day," says Gwen. "Remember, it's about the bride and the groom. Let the couple create the day they want, not what you want."
4) Never diss your ex in front of them: "Do not make disparaging comments about the other parent," Gwen cautions. "It reflects more negatively on you than the object of your comments. It also creates stress for the kids who love both their parents. Your issues with your ex are your issues. Don't make them issues for your adult child."
5) Ice any residual issues: "If there is any animosity between you and your ex, put it aside on graduation day or the wedding day or whatever. All children, and especially adult children, are very tuned-in to the tensions between their parents," points out Gwen. "Yes, you are divorced parents but you are still Mom and Dad. So come together in celebration even if you had an acrimonious divorce – for the sake of your children for one day."
Sure, this is all easier said than done, but Gwen knows it is possible. "But it does require a great deal of maturity and transcending the ego."
And if she could only offer a single piece of advice?
"Keep your feelings and frustrations to yourself. Don't verbalize them. Just focus on enjoying the time that you do have. Act as though it's going to be your last event together. You'd spend in a very loving way, wouldn't you?"
Note: Gwen offers a variety of resource materials through her website dealing with such issues as relieving stress and improving relationships.