Probably the worst moment of my ongoing divorce was when we sat down with our son and broke the news to him. He immediately burst into tears, and for a split second, I wanted to take it all back just to spare him the pain. But I couldn't do that. We had to move forward. Soon, our son had questions — and we had to find the right answers.
Children tend to ask the same kinds of tough, wrenching questions about divorce. The good news is that experts say you don't have to have all the answers. But it does help to prepare for those questions and be ready to listen and respond in a way that will help your kids feel loved.
Family therapist Diane Shearer says we should look beyond the questions about divorce and get at what kids are really asking for. "When kids ask tough questions, they aren't looking for complicated answers. They are looking for affirmation, not information." This means they want to be assured that you love them no matter what. They want to know that you recognize their turbulent feelings. Here are some tips on three of the most common questions.
1. Why? From "why did you stop loving each other" to "why are you doing this," kids want to know the big-picture reason behind your split. Shearer says the fear behind this question is that if mom and dad can stop loving each other, they might stop loving their kids, too. So you'll need to assure your child that love between parents is very different from a parent's love for their child. Your love for them is permanent and will never change. In most cases, it's not appropriate to get into the details of why you're divorcing. Instead, reassure your child that you are still a family, just a different kind of family.
2. Is this my fault? Young children, especially, are self-centered, so they can't help wondering if they are somehow at fault for your split. Again, the most important thing here is to assure your child that your love for them is unconditional. They need to know their parents' complicated relationship has nothing to do with them -- they are NOT the cause of the divorce. They will always be loved. That will never change.
3. Where will I live? Make sure you have agreed on a parenting plan -- even a temporary one -- before you break the news. Tell them where they will be, when, and for how long. Let them know that they can express their feelings about these arrangements to you any time they need to. And always speak respectfully about your ex in your answers -- don't involve your kids in whatever conflicts you're having with your spouse.
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