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When your child – or grandchild – is going through divorce

January 12, 2010

It was a lovely 33 degrees in Orlando

I’ve just returned from Orlando, Florida where – in balmy 33 degree winter weather – I had the opportunity to speak about my book Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey to my absolutely favorite demographic group: 70 and 80-plus-year-old seniors. I geared my talk to the Orlando JCC “Chai Steppers” – not a group that you might expect to be that interested in the subject of divorce – to the subject of how you can be supportive if your child or grandchild is going through a divorce.

Heads immediately nodded when I said,

“The first thing you all know, of course, is that you can’t give advice … right?”

I recalled how, when I was going through my own divorce, I mistrusted advice from just about everybody – especially someone related to me and therefore personally involved.  During those agonizing months of “should we/ shouldn’t we go through with this?” coursing through my head every waking and sleeping moment, I knew that the only right answer was the one that felt right for ME – and thus, that came from inside. So my sister or my mother telling me “get it over and end it” or “why don’t you try to work things out?” was absolutely meaningless.

So what should you do – and not do – when someone you love is going through what may be the most difficult challenge they have ever faced? All I could do is tell them what my  mother – who was proudly sitting in the back row – did for me. 

  • It helped to have her simply be there, just to know I was alive, and to be always on my side, no matter what.
  • It helped when my mother reminded me of my strengths and my past accomplishments, which bolstered my self esteem and suggested to me that I would be able to get through this hard time, too.  (“Remember when you backpacked alone through Europe? Remember when you were in Mexico and all three kids got sick at the same time …?”)
  • Calling me too frequently to check up or express worry would have suggested I was in more trouble than I was.  It was better to let me call her – and to know that when I did, she would be there to pick up the phone.  
  • She reminded me that my kids were OK. (Once, while listening to my outpouring of guilt as we sat beside the swimming pool, she pointed to my kids as they laughed and jumped in water and said, “Yep, they sure do look like they’re suffering.”)
  • I didn’t need her to solve my problems; I needed her to HEAR my problems.  Sympathetic noises were usually all I needed. (“Oh, dear, that must have been very painful.”)
  • I did not want to hear that she had once had it much worse.  In fact, I wasn’t interested in hearing her problems at all.  When I was going through my divorce, it was all about MOI! 
  • Being sympathetic doesn’t mean you have to let yourself get dumped on.  Once, after my mother had listened to me railing on about my ex-husband for the first two days of a visit she burst out, “ Jessica – enough! I can’t listen to any  more!” And you know what?  She was right. It was time I gave it a rest.

The best part of the afternoon, however, wasn’t talking about my book Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey. It was the end, when I got to tell them about what my sons are up to.

In the state of Florida, you’re allowed to brag about your children.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 13, 2010 12:04 am

    What an uplifting title! Although I’m not divorced, my husband and I were separated for a few years and during that time I certainly felt as if we already were -but you’re right, advice from others really isn’t that helpful. It often seems as if everyone wants you do to do what they think you should do, and when you don’t they tend seem disappointed. I was lucky to have an aunt who was very intuitive about how I was feeling. She seemed to understand the mental confusion I experienced and she never made me feel pressured to make a decision. Thanks for sharing.
    Just a suggestion… adding a “Tweetmeme” or “Sharethis” Button would make it easier for visitors to share your post on Twitter or Facebook.

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