When Your Gray-Haired Parents Get Divorced

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “gray divorce” is on the rise in the United States. According to research conducted at Bowling Green University, the divorce rate among adults aged 50 and older has doubled since 1990. As a result, there’s a growing number of adult children grieving their parents’ divorces.

Gray divorce isn’t just a secular phenomenon; it’s permeating our churches, too. Three weeks before my own wedding, I learned my mom and dad’s marriage was coming to an end. Since then, I’ve met several adult Christians in similar situations. We’re all searching for wisdom and encouragement as we face this uncharted territory together.

Secular resources offer some help, but they often focus on self-protection and don’t give much hope. What we really need is a biblical perspective on living as adult children of divorce.

God has taught me important truths amid my own grief. If you’re a child of gray divorce, I pray God will use these truths to help you, too.

God Knows Our Pain
One day, my son came home and shared he was sad for his friend because her mommy and daddy aren’t married anymore. I’m sure most people would feel similarly—we hate when young children have to experience conflicts they don’t understand, instability they can’t control, and grief they don’t have the maturity to process. The emotional toll of divorce on kids can be devastating.

I wish people would understand the toll it takes on adult kids, too.

The divorce rate among adults aged 50 and older has doubled since 1990. As a result, there’s a growing number of adult children grieving their parents’ divorces.

Sure, we don’t have to pack up our things every other weekend to go visit Mom or Dad. We even have the option to walk away from our parents entirely if we so choose. But a unique grief comes with being an adult child of divorce.

As grown kids, we mourn decades of traditions and memories. Compared to young children, we’re often less shielded from conflict and more aware of our parents’ sin. In many cases, divorce also forces us to take on additional financial, familial, and emotional burdens.

Friends and family sometimes expect adult children of divorce to “get over it” quicker because we’re grownups. But grownups hurt, too.

Thankfully, God knows the pain that comes with divorce, and he doesn’t expect us to stifle our tears. Instead, he patiently collects each one in a bottle and records them in his book (Ps. 56:8). As the psalmist declares, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3). We can be comforted because God knows our pain.

Hope in Christ
Divorce raises many questions in an adult child’s mind. Were my parents unhappy this whole time? Did they ever really love each other? Could I have done anything to help save their marriage? Will the patterns I learned from my parents hurt my own marriage and family someday? Do I even know these people anymore?

As we wrestle with such questions, it can feel like the ground beneath us is crumbling. In these moments, we have to remember that our firm foundation is not found in our earthly families—it’s found in Jesus Christ.

A unique grief comes with being an adult child of divorce.

Jesus is our one true hope. Through his blood, we’ve been adopted into a better family with a better trajectory. We are God’s children forever, and our Father will never change. No matter what tomorrow holds, we can take heart knowing that the Lord is and will always remain “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 145:8).

Walking in Obedience
Though they’re no longer married, your parents will always be Mom and Dad. The world may tell us to walk away from these relationships when things get difficult, but God calls us to imitate himself and walk in obedience to him (Eph. 5:1). And obedience means honoring our parents even when it’s hard. The command to honor them doesn’t come with exceptions—or time limits (Eph. 6:2–3). There’s no “divorce pass” that allows us to walk away so we don’t get hurt.

You might think your parents don’t deserve honor, and you may be right. But the Bible says “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God honored the dishonorable—you and me—by making us alive with Christ, raising us up with him, and seating us with him in a place of honor, despite our own dishonorable state (Eph. 2:5–6).

How, then, do we imitate Christ? By honoring our parents whether they’re deserving or not. This doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to sin; instead, we ask God to help us love our parents with wisdom. For example:

If your parents insist on speaking ill of each other, loving them in wisdom could mean asking them not to do so when they’re talking to you—and then redirecting or even ending uncharitable conversations.
If the divorce reveals that your parent is abusive, loving them in wisdom could mean removing yourself or your loved ones from harm, involving proper authorities, and praying for your mom or dad from afar.
If one parent has left the other to pursue someone else, loving them in wisdom could mean treating everyone involved with respect, but also explaining that you won’t celebrate this new relationship.
Whatever your situation, you can rely on Christ to supply all the love, forgiveness, and wisdom you need to walk in obedience.

Forever Faithful
If you’re grieving your gray-haired parents’ divorce, I’m so sorry. This is one club that no kid—young or old—ever wants to join.

Divorce is not good, but we can take heart knowing that our God redeems the worst of circumstances and will work all things together for the good of his children (Rom. 8:28). He really will. Our earthly parents may fail, but our heavenly Father is always faithful. May he comfort you in your sorrow, give you hope in his Son, and use these trials to make you more like himself.

Chelsea Stanley

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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