The other day I made an offhand remark to a friend about something my soon-to-be-ex-husband had done that I found irritating, to put it mildly. Then I realized that my kiddos were right there with me, and overheard my gah I can’t believe he did that(!) comment.
I paused my conversation and launched into my go-to speech whenever something negative comes up about their dad or anything about our impending divorce. “Girls, this divorce is not your fault ...” I didn’t have a chance to finish as both my daughters rolled their eyes and interrupted, “... and you and Daddy both love us very much.”
Divorce with kids is rough, man, and trying to decide what to tell them, how much to tell them, when to tell them, etc., is no easy decision. Everyone has an opinion, and make no mistake, you will be judged for whatever you decide to do. Because of course you didn’t stay married ‘for the kids,’ so now you’re supposed to be an extra perfect parent. You know, to make up for your inability to stay married.
Anyway. You have the people that say you should be completely transparent and reveal the gory details. Then you have the people that think kids should be left completely unaware of what went down in the marriage to protect them and also it’s none of their business.
I think the best answer is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I think it is their business, in part, if for no other reason than Mommy and Daddy don’t live together or do that gross kissing thing anymore. They’re going to notice. That said, they really don’t need to know about my inner turmoil or what the straw that broke my marriage’s back was.
No matter how much or how little you decide to reveal to your kids about your divorce, there are three key things that you should tell them.
- "This is not your fault." All kids have a tendency to self-blame, so repeat this one over and over. Don’t just say it, live it too. If your child hears, “If only your father had made dinner once in a while,” your child will hear, “If I hadn’t needed dinner, maybe my parents would still be married.”
- “We both love you very, very much.” Does this one even need an explanation? Even if your co-parent doesn’t act like it, you can use the old fallback of, “He just has a hard time showing it.”
- “Daddy is not a bad person/jerk/asshat.” Ok, so you don’t have to state this one specifically, but do refrain from name-calling. Your kids are half you and half your ex. If you resort to personal attacks, your kids won’t hear that their dad is a douche canoe; they’ll hear that they’re a douche canoe, because they are half of him. Then they might ask what douche means or, worse, look it up on the Internet, so really it’s better to just avoid the whole thing.
When you’ve done all that, then snuggle, hug, run, play, eat cookies together, and generally show them that they are wonderful little human beings capable of great joy. The best lesson you can teach by example to your kids after your split with their dad is that their happiness is not dependent on their parents’ marital status.
How much do you think kids need to know about their parents' divorce?
Image via Jenny Erikson