Have your kids ever asked why you got divorced? Have they asked the tough questions like, "Why doesn't Dad come to my events?" or "Why doesn't Mom spend time with me when I'm there?" If you're like most divorced parents who have had to answer questions like this, two things happen:
- Your heart breaks knowing your child has questions like these.
- You want to tell them the truth, but don't want to break their hearts anymore.
So how do you answer the hard questions?
Sometimes kids actually want answers, but sometimes kids are asking questions like these because they're asking about life in general. Let me explain. If one of their parents enters a new relationship and the kids start to feel ignored, they may ask, "Why does Mom only want to spend time with her new boyfriend?" when what they mean is, "Will this happen with you, too?" It's less about the answer to the question and more about security.
When they do want the answer to the question, you may not be the best person to answer it. Using the example above, there's no great answer you could come up with because you're not the one they have a question for. Don't we all want a relationship with our kids where they feel like they can talk to us, even when it's difficult? Empower your children by letting them know it's a good question and that they should feel like they can ask Mom for more one-on-one time.
There will be times when you want to answer, but there's no appropriate way to answer. If they ask why Dad left and the answer is because of an affair, the kids don't need to know. In my work, I had a parent who said they couldn't wait until their child was older so they could tell them everything their ex did. My question is why? Why would any parent want their child to think less of one of their parents? Who does that benefit? The only word I can use to describe behavior like that is selfish. Still, the question is there. An appropriate way of talking about an affair, for example, is that Mom and Dad fell out of love for each other. It's not a lie, but it doesn't cast anyone in a bad light which protects the children.
Sometimes the kids know what's going on. There are too many stories of kids catching their parents in an affair, watching parents abuse each other, or even watching parents use drugs. All of these situations can lead to divorce and, unfortunately, the kids saw more than they should. Be empathetic of this. Let them form their own opinions, do their own forgiveness work, and ultimately learn about who THEY want to be by watching others make mistakes before them.
There are many ways to be honest with your children while still being appropriate. The important part of any of these conversations is that communication is open. We don't always have to have the answer, we just have to be there for the kids when they need it.
Comment below and let us know what tough questions you've had to deal with and how you answered.
There is much more detail about this in the Communication Toolkit: How to tell your kids about the divorce. This is just one of the videos and worksheets I put together to help you decide what your children need to know and what they don't. Browse around for more ideas while you're there.