When grandparents get divorced, it has an effect on the entire family. They are often seen as a fountain of support and wisdom, and the force that binds the family culture together. When they separate, it puts a lot of stress on their adult children, especially those with kids. But our older population is seeking freedom from lifestyles that no longer work for them, or never really did. While overall divorce rates have been decreasing corresponding with changes in marriage trends, “gray divorce,” divorce between couples aged 50 and older, is on the rise.
The Interdependence Theory
There is an algorithm called the Interdependence Theory, which states that someone will stay with their partner if the “outcomes” of their current relationship are higher than their “comparison level of alternatives,” which is the potential of a different lifestyle. Older women are used to having a low comparison level of alternatives due to financial reliance on the husband, limited opportunity in the workforce, and lack of alternative partners. However, recent years have opened up incredible opportunity and growth for women in the workplace, which gives older women an entirely new sense of financial freedom. This boosts their comparison level of alternatives. Online dating has also opened up new doors for both women and men with potential partners on the other side. This boosts their comparison level of alternatives as well. An increase in life expectancy has also contributed to couples wanting to leave a relationship that isn’t working for them.
How “Gray” Divorce Affects Adult Children
So now that their outcomes are falling behind their comparison level of alternatives, they are more willing to divorce. This article on Fatherly focuses on how gray divorce affects adult children. It states that while older women may be working, many are still left in a panic over finances because their husbands typically took care of their money, so the divorce comes with discovering financial problems they weren’t fully aware of. In addition, both parties are paying for the divorce and any attorneys while also working towards their retirement. Some adult children who still expect financial support from parents will now have to cover funding for things like tuition, weddings, and down payments on houses entirely on their own so that their divorced parents may individually take on the financial responsibilities they used to share. This may particularly cause stress with childcare. Grandparents are often a reliable and willing source of free childcare but they may not be able to babysit alone or with new work hours.
Increased Pressure On Adult Children
Financial assistance aside, adult children are also faced with the struggle of feeling they have to keep the family together. They have to go to two different houses for their kids to see their grandparents, which takes twice as much time out of their busy schedules. The pressures of orchestrating family gatherings may now rely on them. The divorcees may lean on their children for temporary housing or support, whether financial or emotional, which is particularly stressful for parents of infant children. This may lead to the adult children making decisions they otherwise wouldn’t have, such as sticking through their own bad marriage just to have a sense of stability, or not having children because their financial responsibilities are elsewhere.
Gray divorce is clearly an extremely stressful time for the whole family. Please read How to Comfort a Friend Who’s Heartbroken to comfort both the divorcees and their adult children. Also, consider breaking up the tension with a divorce party, which sheds light on growth, maturity, next steps, and why this divorce needed to happen. As always, make sure you are practicing self care throughout this incredibly stressful time.