Divorce in the Sunset Years -- Do You Tell the Kids?

While the divorce rate has stabilized among most age groups, it has increased dramatically for those over the age of 50. There are lots of reasons for this. Divorce was socially stigmatized a few decades ago; it is much less so now. Some people do stay together until their kids are grown, hoping that a divorce won’t be too traumatic for adult children. 

Why now? Well, people can change a lot in the mid-life and in their retirement years. Sometimes couples simply grow apart, other times issues that were tolerable at one point become much worse. Whichever the case, if you are considering or have decided on a divorce, you are not alone. 

Make a Plan for How to Tell Your Kids About the Divorce

The big question for many couples who are splitting up is whether and how to tell their kids. First, yes, you should absolutely tell your children if you are divorcing, no matter how old they are. They will almost certainly figure it out if you try to hide it from them, and that dishonesty will make a challenging situation much more difficult. 

Exactly how you tell your kids will vary according to your particular situation. If you are divorcing because one partner is abusive, then you probably won’t want to sit down together to announce the news. However, outside of dangerous situations, it’s best if you and your soon-to-be-ex let your kids know at the same time. This means in person if possible, or over a video call like Skype or Zoom if not. Experts strongly discourage breaking the news over the phone, email, or text. 

Researchers have found that adult children take the news of their parents’ divorce very hard. It can rock their world, maybe not as much as a younger child, but it’s still devastating news. This is because their vision of their family is changing completely. Be prepared to empathize with your kids, and don’t expect them to be happy for you. In cases of abuse, they may feel some relief, but divorce is still a shocking thing. 

It’s vital that you prepare yourself before you talk to your kids. Don’t wing it. If possible, you and your partner should agree on how much information to give them. This is especially tricky if one of you has had an affair. Experts don’t agree on whether to be upfront about that or not. If one partner has an addiction, you have to decide how much to share, too. 

Expect That This Will Be Hard for Your Kids -- And Be Present for Them

No matter what you decide to share, keep two points in mind. Avoid blame as much as possible. Your kids might feel that they have to take sides, and that is not appropriate. Second, avoid saying you stayed together for them. Often, kids--no matter how old--will blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. You need to be clear that it is not their fault. They will probably go over their childhoods and try to figure out when problems started anyway. But you don’t want them to take on the burden of the fact that your marriage didn’t last. 

You’ll want to think over practical implications, too. How will you spend your holidays? Is one spouse keeping the family home? Will you both come to big events, like weddings, baby showers, and graduations? If you have grandkids, how do you want to tell them? And how will you share grandparenting?

Don’t be surprised if your kids are in shock or are angry. They may need to talk over the divorce more than once. Encourage siblings to support one another, and encourage each of them to speak with a counselor. Whether they’re 5 years old or 35, divorce is a challenging event for kids to deal with. You’ll make it less difficult if you plan ahead and resolve to be present for them. 

You won’t want to miss our tips on living life as a mature adult; subscribe to our newsletter

Back to Magazine
Healthy Access Banner