The announcement comes with a thud, even when you may be expecting it. "Mom, Dad, my husband (or wife) and I are getting divorced!"
What do you say? What went wrong? As shocking as a divorce may be, you can navigate through the changes that come with your child's divorce announcement and help him or her through this trying time.
If there is any chance to help the couple receives counseling, seek reconciliation or postpone divorce through a separation period, encourage them to do so. Your stable wisdom in the midst of emotional turmoil could save the marriage.
Unfortunately, often the couple has already decided to divorce, and your reaction is important. First, you may want to have a good cry. You are grieving the loss of dreams and a marriage. You may also find yourself feeling shock, anger, guilt, shame and powerlessness. Get your thoughts and emotions in order before responding or reacting. Your child will need your stability.
Divorce seldom ends with a decree from a judge. Fractured emotions and fault-finding often get tangled with issues such as the division of property, custody of children and visitation rights.
Consider how your role could change with those involved. How can you stay connected? What will family mean after the divorce is final? Help make it as smooth as possible.
Invest healthy energy in deciding how you can be a positive influence by standing as a role model for them. This is a great time to illustrate what age, maturity and experience can do when melded with God's love. Carefully choose your words and actions in these volatile times and defuse the emotions, pain and confusion through your example.
Battles regarding custody and visitation can be brutal. Your reactions can lessen the trauma.
Blame doesn't really matter or help. It just gets in the way. Blaming, and all that accompanies it, will thwart the process of forgiveness, reconciliation and healthy healing.
You may be the only godly example among everyone involved who shows what it means to forgive and forget. You can also show them how to learn from the past and build more soundly for the times ahead.
There are practical considerations that may affect you and your household directly. Prepare for them in advance to avoid the consequences. The decisions you make can be the difference between enabling problems to continue or empowering your child to make healthy changes.
For example, what about your child moving back home? Some counselors caution parents about the implications that come with putting out either a "Vacancy" or "No Vacancy" sign. Perhaps your child should explore other options, such as moving into a smaller apartment or taking on tenants, instead of returning home.
How much financial or material support can/should you offer? Consider conditions on your help, such as whether your giving should be a gift or a loan, and for how long. Other legal and financial questions must also be considered, such as your will and raising grandchildren, directly or indirectly, if the need arises.
How you respond to these questions and what boundaries you set could make the difference in decisions your child must make, such as whether or not to reconcile if she knows she can't run back home. Can divorce be avoided if you say no to them in a firm and loving way? Seek advice from trusted church leaders or a counselor.
Harv Herman, pastor of the over-50 Prime Ministers at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, identifies two keys for parents helping children through divorce.
"First, give advice only when asked," Marv says. "It's too easy to want to tell them how to run their lives, and it can cause problems in your relationship if you do. Ask for their permission before speaking to them, even about critical issues.
"Second, pray," he says. "Intercede for them. Pray about everything, including whether or not to give them counsel. Your peace of mind, and theirs, is at stake.
"Pray like you've never prayed before for them," Marv says. "Your wisdom and knowledge of life give you a special perspective. Thus, your prayers can be more effective than anything lawyers, marriage counselors and judges can do."
Help them reconcile if at all possible, keep a stable mind, prepare for change, forgive and set boundaries as your child and grandchildren go through divorce. Then influence them for good as you model godliness, and you will make it through this season together.