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When Your Child’s Life Falls Apart

C.B. Gavant

You carefully checked into every suggestion, vetted every possible spouse. You shopped with her for a gown, proudly walked her down the aisle toward her future. And now she’s calling to tell you it’s all over. What parents experience when their children divorce.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

With divorce unfortunately becoming a more frequent reality in young people’s lives, more and more parents are being jolted with the shocking news that all is not well, and perhaps even unfixable. As heartrending as this situation is for the young people whose marriage is dissolving, it can be equally agonizing for their parents.

“The hardest thing is to see your child in pain,” says Susan, aBaltimoremother whose daughter divorced seven years ago at age 22. “As a parent you want to see your child succeed, and the situation is suddenly completely out of your control.”

The emotional difficulty is exacerbated by the sad reality that the focus is so concentrated on the divorcing couple — and their children — that the couple’s parents can be lost in the shuffle, notes Dr. Deborah Tobin, a clinical psychologist in Jerusalem with over 40 years of experience in marital therapy. “You raise your children wishing all the best for them, you have a wedding filled with simchah, and it never occurs to you that something like this is going to happen. There’s a lot of confusion about where we go from here. The parents enter a period of mourning that’s very intense — not so much a loss of a marriage but a loss of a dream, of everything that’s going to be in the future.”

“It’s as if a dream has been shattered,” agrees Naama, another mother of a young divorcée. “The life a person thought she had she no longer has. I had nightmares for weeks afterward about what my daughter had gone through.”

While it’s often the children who are sent for counseling after a traumatic breakup, parents may also need time and help to process what has happened, suggests Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Ackerman, a Brooklyn-based psychotherapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. It’s a grief process like any other, although not all parents are aware that what they are experiencing is grief. “People are more comfortable with or more aware of anger and resentment. It’s harder to sit still and think, What else is happening to me? What else am I experiencing?”

Although some parents feel very relieved, especially if they saw problems in the marriage from the beginning, more often, says Dr. Tobin, there’s anger, depression, and fear.


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