So much attention is directed to smoothing the jagged effects on children caught up in family separations that it can be harder to assess the effects on grown up ‘children’.
Divorce among the over 60s has tripled in the past 20 years, and the wider effects can cause substantial and often unseen ripples.
Parents matter, and they matter for longer than is often realised.
Suddenly the map of the wider family has to be redrawn, and the sons and daughters in their 30s can easily feel erased from the new systems
It can be tough to see those staid and predictable parents now attaching to new partners and becoming less available as they find links and the energy of different hopes. No longer are they just ‘there’ but now they may be engaging with an adolescent sense of fun and freedom.
As their kids grow up, these newer parental couplings become connected with to youthful optimism and their children will be excluded from this.
Sharing may have been a lifelong challenge with siblings, but with family groups shifting and reforming there may well be an unexpected group of extra family members now inextricably attached and causing refresh rivalries. What happens to the only child suddenly caught up in a stepfamily of several siblings.
Whose grandchildren will feel most favoured – what will happen to the established holiday rituals – and let’s not even begin to think of the unmentionable ‘inheritance’
These are some of the future concerns, but there is also the past. A mysterious place where assumptions are made and patterns of couples are internalised.
When parents divorce in their 60s, this will mean that children may start to question their own past. Unpicking family life and looking for clues can be a painful business. The children of later divorces may wonder if the parents ‘stayed together for the sake of the kids’.
That can feel like quite a guilt inducing burden.
Families need to engage and talk, and parents should feel free enough to look out for their own happiness but also to stay sensitive to the fact that the children may look like Grown Ups but there is a small child in us all. Happiness is Love. Let’s be careful with it.