Navigating Divorce: The After Years with Adult Kids

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One of the interesting things my divorce therapist never told me about was navigating divorce in the after years—those years that come once your children are essentially grown and are no longer reliant on you or your former spouse and yet they’re not quite independent either.

I’ve been divorced for many years and did the whole single mom thing.  Even though it was hard, I understood the struggle for identity, the pursuit of a career that I could be proud of and still support my kids while also doing my best to love my kids through the pain of their parents break up.

I understood when I started dating and took on the complexities brought with a new relationship and ultimately marriage.  Again, it was hard, but I felt prepared to deal with the sadness of my children, the confusion about whether or not it was okay to love their step parents, and the anger directed towards me—I was the safe place to fall.

More difficult to understand is this in between place—the after years.  The kids are grown beyond the years required by child support—both in college.  They are not yet independent and yet they are adults.  I have no real authority over them and continue to provide help.  Their relationship with their father is truly theirs.  It’s not me making the weekend or holiday plans anymore.  I’m not coordinating transportation and making sure they see all of their grandparents when they go for a visit. I no longer remind them to call my former husband each week.

As I traverse this in between space during the holidays I sometimes find myself secretly wishing, “Pick me.  Stay home for the holidays with me.  Choose the traditions we created together when we became our own little family.”  And once I allow this feeling to wash over me, it is quickly replaced by a feeling of pride that these two amazing young adult children have developed the priority and value of family.  They are making great choices to continue building relationships with the entire family they were lucky enough to collect along the way.

Navigating divorce with children is never easy—even in the best of circumstances.  Releasing my adult children to the space between and providing them the freedom to choose with whom and how they spend their time over the holidays, summers and college breaks has been uniquely challenging for me and ultimately the most rewarding.

Although we may be sorting out the after years, I’m sure of one thing—the foundation we intended to lay—family—is strong and unshakable.

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