Tonight, I had to break the news of a divorce in our family to my children. I had been putting it off, forgetting about it or telling myself that it was not a good time to bring it up. We were eating dinner, and the girls had asked why a family member was not living at their house anymore. I realized that I could not avoid the subject anymore, so I had to tell them. They took the news as I expected, with confusion, sadness, and questions. The questions are always tough – “Will you and Daddy not be married someday?” “Why would they not want to be in love with each other anymore?” “We cannot go to their house anymore?” My heart breaks a little with every inquiry and feeble response I have to give to them.
This is not the first divorce I have had to break to them, and we have had more tough discussions involving other matters that are challenging, including death, murder, war, and poverty. The girls are getting older, and their questions are becoming more inquisitive. I have always believed in being honest with my children, but I also have learned to employ a softer version of the truth. I do not see any value in hiding things from them, but I also do not see any value in over exposing them to matters that are sensitive. These are tough talks I have with them, but they are unavoidable.
As a parent, how do you explain to your child that two people, two people that your child has known together and as a couple, are separating from one another and are no longer going to be married? How do you explain this while also reassuring them that it will not happen to their own parents? I had foolishly thought that since so many children come from families with divorced parents or parents who never married that my children would come to accept this as relatively normal. I was wrong, and now I have had to scramble to find answers to those tough questions.
At the end of our dinner, after some tears and some hesitation in answers, I realized what I have when bringing up this topic before – that there are no good or easy answers. All I can do is try to reassure my girls that family is still family and that there will always be the love they see between their father and I. Love is not always enough to keep a marriage together, but I could not explain this to them anyways. I can only answer as best as I can and try to be honest and fair. I know that this is how my mom was when I was growing up. You cannot sugarcoat everything, and she believed in being honest with us. At the same time, she knew that children did not have to know the whole story, guts and all, and could discern what was necessary and what could be left out. I’m still trying to find my own limits.
How do you approach the tough topics with your own children, or how did your parents do it? Do you think that there are any ways of doing it that are less harsh or easier for children to handle?