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Parents Need to Set Boundaries with Divorcing Daughter
Written By: Mark Smith

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Divorce is a nightmare. It is not a termination of a contract between two people. It is a termination of a contract between literally hundreds of people. It takes a village to get a divorce. Your extended family members are getting divorced from your spouse too. For that matter your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow church members are divorcing your spouse as well. The spiral and chaos of a divorce can draw family and friends into an extremely destructive and damaging vortex. A tumultuous divorce can end up making a whole lot of people very unhappy and uncharacteristically crazy. This column is specifically meant to aid the parents of adult children who are going through a divorce.

I got an e-mail this week from just such a hurting parent; this mother was hurting as she watched her daughter struggle through a divorce. She wrote…“My daughter comes and goes but we are now saddled with the kids on the weekends and the upheaval of our once quite life. I want to run away and never come back! I don’t want my daughter back in our home! Is that selfish or what? I think at this point I have lost myself. Please give some guidance for the parents left in this mess.”

The last thing that a loving parent wants for their adult children is a divorce. When they see their child in agony during a divorce the natural response is to jump in and try to rescue the child from any further pain. While that is a natural response, it is many times also not very healthy. Watching an adult child thrashing around in the waters of a nasty divorce is not unlike watching someone drowning. Unless you are an expert swimmer with lifesaving training, however, it is not wise at all to jump in and try to save someone who is drowning. What happens then is that two people end up drowning.

You need to know your limitations. If you step in to rescue and you do not take care of yourself in terms of your space, your time, your emotional energy, and your money, then you will end up bitter, angry, and depressed yourself. You will actually end up making the situation worse. Do not drown yourself in your efforts to save your child. The child is an adult and needs to grow up and wear the big kid pants. She contributed to the situation getting to where it has gotten and needs to feel the pain of it. She needs to clean up her own messes. You should not give what you really do not have to give. I know that is it horrible to sit back and watch someone your dearly love drown. That is a better option, however, then also allowing her to take you down too. Let her go, pray for her, give her what resources you can—toss in a life preserver and encourage her to swim—but stay on the shore. Give without causing yourself great harm; risking who you are only makes you unable to offer any further assistance in the future.

My reader needs to set some firm boundaries. Her daughter really needs to find another place to live very soon. The current arrangement is just not working. Boundaries also need to be set with money and childcare. They really need to become familiar with that powerful little word ‘NO’. Frankly the pattern of enabling an immature adult child has no doubt gone on since the child was very small. They will be more help to their daughter in the long run more if they maintain a sense of their own sanity and serenity. One’s home needs to be a sanctuary. It needs to be safe, and it needs to be a place of rest and recharging. Ironically they will actually probably end up building more character and helping their daughter more by setting healthy boundaries. So no, she is not being selfish in my opinion. Her feelings of frustration are healthy, and they need to be translated into appropriate boundaries. She needs to just say no.
That is all for this week.

I’ll see you next time.

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This article was authored by Family Tree Counseling Associates, a marriage, individual and family counseling center serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana. If you would like to contact us, please fill out a contact us form or call us at 317-844-2442.
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