Parents' second divorce?
July 13, 2012 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Support for one's parents' second divorce?

Though this may seem like a niche question, I'm sure it's a pretty common situation, sadly, these days.

My biological parents divorced when I was 3. My mother and stepfather dated exclusively from (my) age 7-14 and married when I was 14. Now, 20 years later, I am 35 and they are getting divorced. I'm not that surprised but I am anyway, you know? My stepfather is effectively my father and this for me is like a first divorce situation...but worse because there is all the extra memory of my biological parents' long, mean custody battle.

I live far away from them. I am in a cold, hard, serious life-decision-type situation of my own, although, thank God, I have a loving significant other and friends where I am. I may or may not visit my parents, but I can't lose it because losing it now would f--- up my own life. There can be no staying in bed, etc..

My mother's and my blood relatives are not modern people. They are helping my mother, but I can't go to them for support because all they do is invoke the name of my Granny Fanny, my long-dead adored grandmother, and similar upsetting things to get me to take their side. I can't be sitting around thinking about old recipes and crying. (I am sure that, just as she could not have imagined Johnny Cash on YouTube, Fanny would be surprised to see herself mentioned on Metafilter.)

I can't go to my stepfather's family, again, effectively my own family, until the news goes public. They are sophisticated people and will not go crazy manipulating me even if things are rough for a while. So I need to get through the days until I can talk to them.

Heck, it may sound like I'm CLOSE with my parents. I am not that close to them. Nonetheless they are my parents and they're getting divorced.

What books, websites, or support groups can you recommend for adults whose parents are divorcing? With an "again" twist in there? Thank you for your help.
posted by skbw to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How about relying for support on your loving significant other and friends? If you live far away and aren't close to your parents, their divorce doesn't affect you in any material way - just emotionally. So talk to your SO and friends about how you are feeling (sad, angry, etc.).

My mother and stepfather divorced when I was about 30. Like you, I lived far away from them and wasn't really that close to them. Like you, my stepdad has been a part of my life since I was around 6 years old. Once I got over the surprise, it really wasn't that upsetting. It was unfortunate that they weren't able to work things out, but people get divorced, you know? They both made it clear that they would remain part of my life, and have done so. And I had all my own things going on anyway.

I realize that some people may have a stronger reaction than I did, but "staying in bed" and "sitting around thinking about old recipes and crying" seem like somewhat extreme reactions for a grown up whose parents are getting divorced. The custody battle when you were 3 doesn't have anything to do with your life now.

If the situation is really making you feel like you need to spend days in bed, maybe the the-recommended therapy is something you should think about.
posted by jeoc at 11:15 AM on July 13, 2012

I'm not entirely sure what you want from this situation. In parts, it sounds like you want to console your mother and stepfather separately, and are unsure how to proceed. In other parts, it sounds like you yourself are upset about this situation, and want them to console you.

As for the first, your parents are adults, and have to bear some of the burden of finding their own support. It sounds like they have family nearby, which is good. A consoling phone call offering your support would certainly not be remiss.

But since you are an adult with your own life to live and at a great distance from them, I think that in large part you can sit back and wait for them to come to you if they need to. I don't think you need to rush to their side, certainly not if they haven't asked you to (which it sounds like they haven't).

As for the second, this IS a very upsetting situation, but - given that you are an adult - I don't think your parents should be responsible for helping you through it. They have their own stuff to deal with.

Do you have friends, significant others, perhaps a therapist you can talk to? It sounds like you are having to cope with a lot of old bad stuff that is welling up. I suspect you're not so much upset by this divorce as you are still upset about the first one.
posted by ErikaB at 11:19 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry for your loss (and yes, it is a loss - and grieving is totally appropriate.) I know I'd be devastated if either of my parents divorced their current spouses, even though it wasn't until I was about 20 before I was OK with my dad having gotten remarried in the first place.

You are totally not alone in having issues with this.

One of the things I'd like you to really consider is that this is a bit like a PTSD trigger - you're experiencing a reopening of old, not totally healed wounds, not just getting new wounds. For a really long time I hated thinking of myself as an "adult child of divorce," especially because I wasn't like everyone else (in my head) in that I couldn't remember a time when my natural parents were together. They've always hated each other, as far as I can tell. Looking at happy photos of them from the first two years of my life, and their courtship/wedding, is totally surreal.

But that's part of what you are, and I think that in the short term it may be more effective to focus on those wounds (which you can talk about with whomever you please - no need to keep secrets) rather than the big questions of what happens next. Amongst other things, old trauma has already happened. You have a (weird) sort of control over it; you aren't in any kind of danger.

I do know of some literature about young adults whose parents divorce, which may be of help. And there's stuff like this and this out there, too.

Your feelings are in any case totally valid. If you can arrange it, time with a Marriage and Family Therapist may be helpful.

OH: And your stepfamily is totally your stepfamily even if your mother divorces your stepfather. It took me almost three decades to start to realize my stepdad considers me just as much his kid as he does my half-sisters. He really does. He even tells them that (and has been telling that) out loud in those exact words since forever ago, with no expectation of me finding out. Don't let the "step" or the pending divorce make you think your relationship with that part of your family needs to change at all. And if your mother, or her family, tries to pull that crap on you, recognize that they're hurting and that's fine for them to be reacting this way right now, but they're also 1000% wrong.
posted by SMPA at 11:22 AM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

This is what your significant other and close friends are for. People who are inclined to take your side, are not involved in the drama of the situation, and support you in whatever way you need. Find a good buddy you can vent to over beers.

If that doesn't help, have you considered talking to a therapist? That's the next level of "person you can vent to who has no dog in this fight".

My parents split when I was seventeen (so, basically an adult), and oh, man, the drama. I felt really trapped by everything, and like I had nobody to talk to about it. I felt like I "shouldn't" feel a lot of the feelings that my younger siblings felt, re custody (was never subject to a custody arrangement), loss of parents (both parents definitely stayed in the picture), and the like. It was also difficult because, as an adult, I was privy to a lot more gossip and opinion that everyone was trying desperately to keep from the little kids. I was also a support for both parents, so they were both venting to me about the other party, everyone's family, etc. Oh, and then my extended family decided to start "sharing", too.

Please do not feel like you have to be everyone's rock, in this.
posted by Sara C. at 11:25 AM on July 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you guys for taking the time to answer. Let me reiterate: I am looking for specific books, websites, support groups, heck, even motivational tapes.

That's why my question, last line above, is:

What books, websites, or support groups can you recommend for adults whose parents are divorcing? With an "again" twist in there? Thank you for your help.

I appreciate people sharing personal stories and/or opinions about my situation, but that is not what I am looking for. I am looking for concrete things like How To Cope As An Adult With An Adult Family Meltdown, ISBN xxx, URL yyy. Otherwise it would be chatfilter, right?
posted by skbw at 11:28 AM on July 13, 2012

Otherwise it would be chatfilter, right?

No, it would not. "Tell me about your experiences with X" is an answerable question.

I recommend, at any age, Divorce Is a Grownup Problem. It puts things in the right perspective and helps you let go of the guilt.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:37 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Okay, it took me longer than I thought it would, but I found the two books I was after. There are a lot of other good books out there that I have heard of, but these are the only two I've actually read enough of to think they'd be for-sure helpful.

For support groups, I think the best thing to do is to reach out to an M&FT practitioner in your area and see what's around. I don't think there's a national organization equivalent to Al-Anon or Parents Without Partners, for this demographic.
posted by SMPA at 11:46 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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