Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Parents Separating: An Adult-Child Survival Guide
Published Dec 23rd, 2020 & updated on Mar 19th, 2021
So, your parents have been together for 30ish years, then all of a sudden, they decide to call it quits! Maybe you saw it coming, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you understand exactly why they’re separating, maybe you don’t. But what you know for sure is that they’re calling it … and that a whole wheel of emotions is about to hit you. You could say that’s a pretty standard result of parents separating.
But you’re an adult now. You should be able to handle this, right? You’re mature, you have a career, and a good head on your shoulders, so why is it getting more and more complicated by the second?
These are new waters that no one really talks about navigating. Some of us feel that if our parents had split up when we were kids, it would have been easier. Decisions would have been made for us and we would have had years to get used to sharing holidays, birthdays, and major celebrations. We would have known how to navigate those waters because, while growing up, we saw our friends go through it and figure it out.
But we aren’t kids. We’re full-on adults! In a way, it’s better, and in a way, it’s worse. We get to make the decisions now, and OOF! These decisions aren’t fucking easy.
Nothing about the situation is easy. So, here are some things no one really tells you about when your parents separate.
Your Relationships Will Change
Regardless of how the cookie crumbles, your relationship with your parents is going to change. They might try and keep you out of the nitty-gritty, but it’s hard not wanting to be informed about what’s happening in your childhood home.
If one parent is hurting more than the other, you might become their support system. During this supporting process, you stop being a child and become more of a friend. Even in this role as a “friend,” you might end up parenting your own parents. You’ll be offering them advice and walking them through some really hard times. So be prepared!
Alternatively, maybe one of your parents really sucks! Your relationship with them might change because their actions were harmful to your family, and you don’t know how you want to move forward in your relationship with them.
There is going to be a lot of shifting back and forth between the roles of parent, friend, child, or no relationship at all. Wherever you stand with your parents right now, know that it’s ok. It’s also ok if and when your relationship with them changes again. There are going to be a lot of emotions that come up over the next little while and they’re all going to impact how you move forward in your relationship with your family.
You’re Going To Feel A Lot Of Things
There are… *sigh*… so many emotions when it comes to this kind of situation.
You will experience grief about the home life you knew coming to an end. You’re going to feel sadness and pain for your parents who are hurting. You’re going to feel anger at someone or something and be so mad that you’ll just want to explode.
As adults, we often think to ourselves, “I’m old enough that I should be able to rationally think about this. I should process this in a healthy way, right?” Well, even if you think you should feel a certain way, your emotions might betray you! That’s sooooo much fun. Sometimes you get smacked with a tidal wave of emotions in the middle of your workday and you end up having to cry quickly in the bathroom.
Your emotions are going to be jumping all over the place for a while and that’s ok. An entire way of life and a whole familial system is changing right before your eyes! You’re going to need to cry.
It’s also not going to be easy if/when your parents have a new partner in their life. Let yourself adjust and take your time with accepting this new relationship. You were raised with your parents only ever loving each other, but now there is this whole new person in your life who has a relatively significant role. It might feel like you’re betraying your other parent if you’re even remotely nice to this new person.
Forgive yourself for your feelings and don’t push it. The more fake you are, the less you’ll process how you feel and become bitter.
No matter what happens, it’s going to take some getting used to and emotions are going to totally get in the way of every rational thought you might have. Just roll with it if you can and give yourself time!
You Will Become MORE Responsible
If you’re an older Gen Z or a Millennial, you’ll understand when we say that the concept of adulting evades those of us in this age range. But once your parents split up, you reach a new level of responsibility that you might have never felt before.
You might be taking notes for your parents while they are on the phone with lawyers. You might be offering to help them out financially to fix up the house and sell it. You’re rationalizing actions, you’re mediating, you’re a therapist, you’re caring for your siblings… there’s a lot of new responsibility placed on you as an adult child.
Maybe this responsibility is self-appointed because you feel like you have to fix everything and support everyone, but it’s a sense of responsibility nonetheless.
Hard Conversations Are Gonna Happen
You’re going to have to put some boundaries up. This might be for your own mental health and wellbeing, or just because you can’t emotionally take on any more of their baggage. This might hurt your parents because your relationship before all of this might not have included many (if any) boundaries.
Maybe you decide to take a break from a relationship with one or both of your parents while you figure out your boundaries. It’s a hard pill to have to swallow! But if it’s going to benefit you and your mental health in the long run, you might have to do it.
None of this is easy. And if you’re anything like us at DiveThru, we have a lot of feelings. We’re basically that girl who crashed the assembly in Mean Girls.
Just remember that even though you have a ton of feelings, your feelings are still valid!
5 Ways To Cope With Your Parents Separating
It’s important to look after your mental health as much as possible right now! Listen to yourself and your body and try to understand what you need in order to take care of yourself in this moment.
But what kind of things can you do to work through all of these emotions? Adult children with separated or divorced parents don’t really talk to each other about how to cope with such a tough situation because we’re expected to be emotionally mature enough to handle everything. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need help or advice. Good news for you, we have some things that can help you out during such a hard time.
Go to therapy. Please. You’ll need it!
You can journal to get all of your thoughts and feelings down on paper. It can be helpful to look at what you’ve written and see your thoughts on a page. We have our thoughts rolling around in our heads all day and it feels overwhelming if we can’t take the time to sort them out.
3. Take An Emotional Step Back
Sometimes we have to protect ourselves. We have to remove the emotional part of a situation for our mental health and that can be hard to do. But it’s necessary! This lets you see the situation from a more objective point of view and allows you to imagine the kind of relationships that you want with your parents in an ideal world (post-separation of course).
4. Find A Support Group
Going through this kind of familial trauma is really hard and it’s not a super unique experience. There are probably a ton of people around you who have experience with the same or similar situations. There are also many online groups that you could join, or you could even start your own support group if you can’t find any that you really vibe with.
5. Give Yourself Time To Heal
If you’re just at the beginning of this journey, get ready for a long road ahead. It’s going to be tough, so be gentle with yourself and give yourself the kind of time and space that you need. It’s going to be hard. But to quote Glennon Doyle, “We can do the hard things.”
Ultimately, however you’re processing things is totally valid and completely understandable. It’s a lot to go through! Things are changing for better or worse and it’s scary! But we believe in you. We don’t have all the answers, and unfortunately, no one ever will. Just take care of yourself as much as possible and do some of the things that we suggested.
This is hard. Holy shit is this hard. But we know that you’re an amazing and strong person who is capable of getting through even the most difficult of times. Go to therapy, get some support and love, and give yourself the space and time that you need to heal. You’ve got this!