Parents of Divorcees And Disenfranchised Grief

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. – Job 2:13, NLT



Adultery effects more than just the couple.

So does divorce.

After preaching, I was pulled aside and asked about resources for parents of divorced children. To be honest, I realized–like many–I did not have much on the subject. We focus on the couple and kids plus maybe their friends.

So, I am writing to address that gap here today.

It’s worse than losing my own father and mother. 

That was what my father told me about how he felt regarding my ex-wife’s cheating on me and divorcing me. (It was prompted by my ex-wife’s bizarre questioning of how my parents were doing–prior to her finalizing our divorce and before she admitted to committing adultery).

It’s a statement of grief.

My father expressed how being orphaned by elderly parents did not even come close to the grief and pain he experienced engaging with his son’s pain and losing a daughter-in-law he had welcomed as family via adultery and divorce.

This sort of grief is rarely–if ever–acknowledged in regards to divorce or the trauma of adultery.

It is disenfranchised grief.

A grief the bearer does not feel he or she is allowed to grieve. It was his son’s marriage. Not his.

My encouragement to a parent struggling with such disenfranchised grief is to acknowledge it. Name the losses. You may be surprised at how many there are!

-What does my child’s divorce mean about my social standing at church?

-Am I permitted to grieve the loss of my son/daughter-in-law?

-Does this mean I won’t get to see my grandchildren?

-What does my child’s divorce say about my identity as a father, mother, and/or Christian?

And this is complicated grief.

The losses may be complicated by some particularly horrific behavior by the divorcing spouse–i.e. cheating on one’s own flesh and blood like mine did. This makes it more difficult to permit yourself to grieve the loss of the daughter or son-in-law.

Am I being disloyal to my own blood to grieve the loss of someone who hurt him/her so much?

On the other side, you may have a child who cheated on or walked away from his/her spouse and family. Complicated grief issues here might strike over identity and how does one relate to this child after such behavior.

Am I failure as a parent that they did this? It can attack a parent’s identity.

Remember that each person’s actions–including a grown child’s–are theirs to own (2 Corinthians 5:10). You are not responsible for your child’s sin. Your former daughter or son-in-law is not responsible for their former spouse’s sin. The sin of your child is not yours to own. But do not out source it in your grief onto the rejected spouse.

Please do not engage in “The Shared Responsibility Lie” or “It Takes Two” when infidelity is involved.

The parental desire to protect our children is present as well. My parents struggled with this piece. My dad did not see this one coming, and I could tell he felt bad about that. To be fair to him, none of us saw it coming when I was getting married.

You–likely–will have to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not being able to protect your child from this awful pain. Accept that sometimes we do not have that power. It is the cost of living in a world of sinful people with free will. We only control ourselves.

More can be said, but that is a start.

Be kind to yourself.

You are allowed to grieve. This is a divorce that you experience(d) as well.



To divorced faithful spouses:

It is helpful to remember that your parents–assuming they are still alive–are grieving many losses, too.

This was really driven home to me when my folks voiced how they were struggling with me starting to date again. They “weren’t sure if they were ready” for me to date again. Recognizing they were grieving–my chaplain residency supervisor pointed this out to me–gave me the ability to hear it with empathy and grace.

Recognizing their hesitancy over my dating was about their grief helped me to see it as less about them trying to control me and more about them trying to care for their own wounded hearts. They were struggling to be ready to reopen their hearts to another (even potential) daughter-in-law. They were expressing their grief and where they were in their own healing process.

2 thoughts on “Parents of Divorcees And Disenfranchised Grief”

  1. Very compassionate piece. My when ever to be ex is a narcissistic disordered individual of the highest order. Would compete in that category with your now ex. This person’s family is several states away. No where near enough to see how what is represented in weekly phone calls do not match up with the reality we all lived in a zip code 3,000 miles away. The reason I survived the prolonged abuse (of which adultery was only one form) from the spouse was because I grew up with a narcissistic disordered parent. If a person unwisely courts, and resorts to… well – autopilot – and the other person is gainfully employed, says they share your values, etc. (And I wasn’t a real church person then) – well, on autopilot people tend to marry what they are familiar with – whether they realize it or not. When I said something to my surviving parent about the divorce – the response was on the order of, “You got what you deserved. You married that person.” Though shocking, it was a very valuable piece of information as to who would provide me with emotional assistance (or… NOT) as I began my journey towards healing.

  2. A colleague and friend was caught cheating on his wife of 30+ years. The cheating had been an ongoing affair for many years (over a decade). It caught me completely and totally by surprise, a total blindside. He was about 20 years older than me and like a father to me. We had numerous involvements with each other both at work, (I had worked for his business), at church, along with friendship activities such as regular meals together with my wife, kids and I and him and his wife and kids. The emotional pain I experienced I was completely not ready for. I initially was actually in an emotional shock state but didn’t realize it until much later. It took some weeks before I began to feel anger, confusion, and even to identify the pain more clearly. I was uncertain for some time as to what I should really feel. He didn’t cheat on me after all, but somehow I felt a lot of pain.

    The discovery by his wife left our office in shambles as both his wife and he worked there, and they both suddenly took a leave of absence. I felt like I was left to pick up the pieces. I graciously accepted the task as we had covered each other’s duties for various reasons in the past. Church was also much different. Our church study group was now without a major contributor. No more meals together. No more hikes or other friendly activities. They were for a time almost completely estranged from our family and the church. Work felt quite awkward for a time once they both eventually returned, him first and then her. I knew they were working at restarting their relationship, him having left his longtime affair.

    As days turned to weeks the stress and changes at work, at church, in our social life, and the emotional pain I was experiencing led me to some maladaptive coping behaviors like staying up late watching random TV programs, neglecting paperwork at work until the last moment, and disengaging from many of the social activities I had previously been involved in. In a word, I was depressed and certainly the loss and the grief of losing that friendship for a time played a significant role, there were certainly other factors. It took a couple years, a bit of one-on-one counseling with the pastor, talking with various affected people, improvement in my personal healthy life behaviors before I started feeling better again and started purposely engaging in meaningful things again. I still have moments when I lose sight of my goals and reasons for getting up in the morning, which was not at all an issue for me prior to those few years. That kind of emotional pain definitely changes a person. I feel I still have work to do before I totally heal from it.

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