This is a question that has crossed the minds of many, especially when they might have time or a life option of when to divorce. Or it can be a way of looking back on your children's ages when you did divorce to convince yourself that it really wasn't that hard on the kids. (Sorry, it always is hard on them.) Most folks who haven't read the studies on this topic will assume that it is easiest when your children are young adults: at the end of high school? while they are in college? Or starting off on their own? Divorcing couples expect these adult children to be only minimally disturbed. Wrong. Reactions of adult children are still very intense and similar to those younger, just on a different level.
Grown children may mourn a lost way of life and feel that their family memories are only illusions. They may be embarrassed, especially if a parent is involved with a younger person, perhaps someone closer to their age. And they may also be angry at being burdened with what they feel is another problem -- their parents need for emotional support at a time when they have issues of their own.
Parents of adult children often forget to recognize any boundaries here drawing their older children into the sad details instead of protecting them as parents do with smaller children. Unfortunately, being a young adult can make it harder to forgive divorcing parents their weaknesses and sexual activities. Parents are the unspoken stable factor of children's lives and are the secure "insurance policy" for any age.
With this in mind:
• Do not tell your adult children that you stayed together for their sake, whether or not that's true. It is a sure way to create resentment.
• Help them understand that "all those years" were not a sham. Help them keep warm memories intact. Remind them that people change and, in the end, parents are still just people.
• Be prepared to see young adults take sides just as younger children sometimes do. They often feel protective of the parent who they think is the "victim."
If you are in or approaching divorce, check out what behavior you can expect from a child of any age age to help you help them during the transition of divorce. (You can also find these in my Divorce Book For Parents too.)
My advice for people whose parents divorced who are reading this:
• You are not responsible for your parents' choices, be they good or bad. Don't feel bad if you have to draw borders and make them stick to it.
• You are not responsible for your parent's emotional states. You can be sympathetic, but you are not responsible to fix or even patch them.
• If you have a family member by marriage who you like and want to remain friends with, do so. You are not the one who got the divorce, your family member did. By remaining in contact with a cousin/aunt/grandparent/stepparent by marriage, you are not betraying your family member.
As a divorcing parent, know that how well you handle your divorce and your own anger will affect your children far more than the divorce itself--at any age.