When my ex-husband and I separated almost seven years ago, two of my four children were very young and one hadn’t yet been born. My teenager was 16, the babies were 2 and 3, and I was pregnant with our youngest. My toddlers didn’t really ask about their father too much, and my youngest, born four weeks after the separation, didn’t know anything was different.
It wasn’t until they got a little older that they began asking questions about why we — their parents — were not together. Children will always be curious or concerned about their parents not being together despite the reasons that caused the situation. When you’re confronted with questions, use these few tips to help you muster through.
1. Know who you’re speaking with.
Separate your emotions involving your ex from the facts about the situation and use age appropriate language. Whereas you might talk to your teenager about recent arguments they’ve overheard or be able to use an example (that’s non-blaming!) to explain the divorce, with younger children, tread lightly. My toddlers asked basic questions like, “Where’s Daddy?” In the beginning I told them Daddy wasn’t with us right now, but they’d see him soon. Be careful, though, to never promise, “He’ll be home soon,” if it isn’t true.
2. Listen and be comforting.
My son is 10 now and, amazingly, he remembers a lot from his toddler years. Lately he shares this knowledge with his sisters. My youngest, now 6, used to express a desire for us to be together, and my middle daughter, who’s 8, would say something similar. Instead of dismissing a child’s feelings, be sure to listen, validate and comfort with brief information. Try this: “I know you have a feeling inside that you want us all to be together, but it isn’t what Daddy and Mommy want right now. We both love you and you’ll see your Daddy in three days.” Or, let them know they can call him at that moment.
3. Check in with younger children.
Divorcing and separating with children who are between about 5 and 12 years old presents an entirely different conversation. Most children this age have very clear memories of times together with their parent and have completely bonded. In this instance, acknowledge any inquiries immediately, have occasional family meetings with the children, and ask the absent parent to do the same.
4. Ask for help if need be.
Everyone’s situation is different, so if you need further assistance, contact your pediatrician or your school counselor for help. If your child exhibits sudden bad behavior or is withdrawn and sad, it’s okay to ask for help.
5. Coordinate with the other parent.
Unless the situation is unsafe for the child, decide on a regular schedule with your ex for dates when they’ll spend time with the children and attend school events and other important occasions. As children get older, ask them directly if they want the other parent at their event.
In every instance, ensure that your child knows they didn’t have anything to do with the problems you had or the reason you’re divorced. Reiterate your love and your ex’s love for them, and reaffirm permission for them to approach you at anytime with questions.
Photo credit: Thinkstock