More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
My Child?s Divorce Is My Pain
September 2, 2007

THE breakup of the marriage brought Ina Chadwick heartache, guilt and financial hardship. The divorce, she said, tore away from her everything in her ?Cinderella dream.?

But the divorce she so ruefully speaks about was her daughter?s, not her own.

?You live through your child?s divorce,? said Ms. Chadwick, 60, a writer who is still dealing with the fallout from the collapse of her middle daughter?s marriage four years ago.

Marsha Temlock, a retired family counselor in Westport, Conn., said her initial reaction to the divorce announcement of one of her two sons five years ago was, ?How could you divorce this wonderful girl?? For months she fielded calls from the son and the daughter-in-law like a ?switchboard operator,? she said, letting their divorce monopolize her life.

Ms. Temlock eventually let go, and even wrote a book for parents going through their own children?s divorce. But for a long time, she said, ?I was bereft.?

As the ties between parents and adult children have grown closer over the last few decades, more parents find themselves navigating the rocky shoals of divorce, or even the breakup of long-term relationships, right along with their children, some family and marriage experts say.

Parents today are not only more involved in their adult children?s lives but they are also living longer and more active lives, said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at John Hopkins University who was the co-writer of a book on American grandparents. This means, he said, that ?it?s much more common for adult children to have their parents still living when they divorce.?

And when children divorce, their parents? lives are often dramatically changed, an impact that is receiving increasing attention in books, Internet forums and in the courts, where some grandparents find themselves when custodial battles cut them off from grandchildren.

Parents of divorcing children may find themselves incurring debt to help their children financially, or putting plans to travel, play golf and simply enjoy their families on hold. Or their lives are turned upside down when a son or daughter needs to move back home, or when they find themselves without recourse when their grandchildren are torn from them in custody battles.

Ms. Chadwick said she and her second husband took out ?a sizable? home equity loan that enabled her middle daughter and her two children to keep their house. The loan, which the daughter is slowly repaying, ?cut into us a lot,? Ms. Chadwick said.

Some of the older couple?s plans, such as a home renovation, have been deferred, but Ms. Chadwick said she appreciated being able to help her family.

Less affluent parents, some grandparent advocacy groups note, are sometimes forced to take a job to help pay for their children?s divorce-related costs or struggle for ways to represent themselves in court to fight to see their grandchildren.

A RETIRED couple, Lola and Bill Bailey, lost touch for seven years with their two grandchildren after their daughter divorced her husband and he got custody.

?When they came back to us, we had to mourn the children that we lost and we had to start from scratch,? Ms. Bailey said.

During those years, Ms. Bailey helped organize the National Committee of Grandparents for Children?s Rights, an organization that lobbies for laws that recognize children?s rights to keep in contact with their grandparents after a divorce. Despite a few legislative victories in states like New York, where grandparents can pursue visitation rights in some cases, Ms. Bailey, who travels with her husband on a motor coach around the country on behalf of their organization, said most grandparents are still at the mercy of the custodial parent and judges if they would like to keep seeing their grandchildren.

To minimize exposure to the acrimony of the warring spouses, parents of divorced children are advised to avoid taking sides or criticizing, even in cases when the parents may disagree with their own child?s behavior, such as infidelity. They must tread carefully, some parents warn, to avoid worsening what can be a volatile situation.

Since Sandra Besas?s daughter went through a divorce a year and a half ago, Ms. Besas has made sure to talk to her former son-in-law regularly and welcome him in her home. She has two young grandsons at stake. Having been through a divorce herself, Ms. Besas, 67, a nurse who lives in New Hampshire, knows the importance of maintaining family ties. Her connection with her former father-in-law, she said, was so close that when he was old and widowed, he came to live with her and her second husband, now deceased.

?It was wonderful for my children because he was their grandpa,? she said. But her daughter, Kristen Jackson, 42, said she had not always appreciated her mother?s communication with her ex-husband. Sometimes, Ms. Jackson said, Ms. Besas inadvertently gave him ?too much information,? which Ms. Jackson feared could give him an advantage in their divorce-related disputes.

But Ms. Jackson said she wanted to follow in her mother?s footsteps by striving for a healthy relationship with her ex-husband and his family, because the stability of the boys? relationship with everyone is most important.

?It?s not quite Demi Moore and Bruce Willis going on vacation with Ashton Kutcher,? she said, ?but that?s an ideal, isn?t it??

Celebrity glossies have made a cottage industry of chronicling Jennifer Aniston?s outings with Brad Pitt?s mother (?Jen Gets Together With Brad?s Mom ? Again!? read one headline in Star magazine this summer). And there has been no shortage of coverage about Britney Spears?s increasingly hostile rift with her mother over the perception that the mother is siding with Kevin Federline for the sake of her grandsons. The stories underscore how such close involvement by parents of divorc?es can leave them feeling as surprised, powerless, angry and caught in the middle as the grandchildren.

Some family therapists say that many parents feel guilt if they had their own divorces, or wonder if they somehow made mistakes in raising their children. ?They may experience some feelings of culpability if they believe that their parenting didn?t adequately prepare their child for long-term relationships, or if they believe that their own marriage served as a poor role model,? said Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ms. Temlock, who wrote ?Your Child?s Divorce: What to Expect ... What You Can Do,? published last year, said she went through a stage of ?guilt and self-flagellation? during the break-up of her son?s marriage.

?Why didn?t we see this coming?? she and her husband asked themselves. ?What could we have done??

But Ms. Temlock, who has a second son who also ended up divorcing, said that trying to fix or rescue the marriage or wallowing in guilt or pain can make matters worse. ?What you want to do,? Ms. Temlock said, is ask, ?How can I help you??

Of course, the answer can turn lives upside down.

Jerry Salino, 60, had recently retired from his job as a correctional officer in San Luis Obispo, Calif., when his 22-year-old son broke up with his live-in girlfriend, who is the mother of his two sons. The breakup left both parents unable to properly care for the boys, ages 2 ? and 1, and the specter of having the children placed in foster care prompted the Mr. Salino and his wife, Sally, to move the boys into their house.

Out went Mrs. Salino?s two hours of Bible studies a day and the couple?s plans for cruises and travel. ?The loss of our freedom is probably the biggest change and drawback,? Mrs. Salino said. ?We can?t go anywhere together without taking the kids with us, and that is extremely limiting.?

It was so exhausting that after two months, the Salinos resorted to part-time day care, which they mostly pay for. But the couple, who expect their son to take back the boys very soon, said they also see a bright side. There is no bigger joy than getting a hug from the boys, they say.

Ms. Chadwick, too, has no regrets. She said that despite the bumps in dealing with the aftermath of her daughter?s divorce, the bond between the two has never been stronger.

?She told me, ?I?ve never felt so loved and cared for in my life.? ?
It used to be that it was very difficult to get court ordered visitation as a grandparent. The fact that most legislators and judges are grandparents themselves has brought about a slow change in the state of the law. Illinois law currently states a grandparent can petition for visitation if:

the child's mother and father are divorced or have been legally separated from each other or there is pending a dissolution proceeding involving a parent of the child or another court proceeding involving custody or visitation of the child (other than any adoption proceeding of an unrelated child) and at least one parent does not object to the grandparent, great‑grandparent, or sibling having visitation with the child. The visitation of the grandparent, great‑grandparent, or sibling must not diminish the visitation of the parent who is not related to the grandparent, great‑grandparent, or sibling seeking visitation;

See 750 ILCS 5/607

It is draining enough dealing with divorce when you are a divorce attorney, much less the divorcee or the parent of a child getting a divorce. We usually suggest that our clients get a therapist while going through a divorce, and if custody is an issue we almost always insist on family therapy. It is important to have the support system of family when going through a divorce, but the disastrous effects of a high conflict divorce can go up exponentially when the families adopt a Hatfield and McCoy mentality.

I will definitely be checking out Marsha's book.
here's a situation i had never thought of. definitely very complex and difficult for all parties involved. thanks for the extra info lawforchild.
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