On the night that my ex-husband and I decided to tell our children we were getting a divorce, we planned to do it during a family ritual: bath time. We didn't want to sit the kids down on the couch and make the announcement into something intimidating or overwhelming. They were 5 and 4 at the time, and we we're giving both of them a shower, which was something we did together as a family a few times a week. As I combed through my daughter's hair and my ex-husband wrapped our son in a towel, we told them that "mom and dad were going to stop living together" and that we were going to "stop being married." My son, who was 4, just looked at us and said "OK," but my daughter slid down into a corner and covered her face. I felt like my heart was actually breaking from inside my chest as I watched her take deep breaths to calm herself. I remember Riley's words so clearly: "I thought Beck and I would be the kids whose parents stayed together forever. I didn't want to be those kids with two different houses." Now we were going to be that family.
I looked at my ex-husband and we both struggled to find the right words to comfort our oldest daughter. She's the child who takes care of each of us and loves so widely and so deeply. But as quickly as her words took the breath from us, she added, "But I want you both to be happy, because I love you." As much as I'd love to say it's a testament to our parenting, I know that Riley's heart is all hers.
We told our children about how I was dating a new person, someone they knew, and that made them kind of excited. We ended the conversation with hugs and told the children they could ask us about the divorce if they wanted. From there, we continued with life as if things never really changed. My daughter struggled to talk about it with us. She told me once that she was nervous she'd hurt our feelings if she talked about her own feelings surrounding the divorce. So I found her a therapist. I didn't think it would be fair for a 5 year old to hold in her feelings as her whole world was flipped upside down.
One morning, as we laid in bed eating a late brunch, she looked at me and asked me, "Why are you getting divorced? I know you still love each other." So I told her the truth.
I didn't move out of the house for about five months, and during the time I'd talk casually about the move, and about what I'd miss about sharing a house with their dad to my kids. I didn't want to push the conversation on the kids, but I also wanted to create the space for them to dialogue with me. I wanted to give them time to process at whatever speed they needed.
After we'd told the kids about the divorce and before I moved out, I took my daughter to a hotel for a weekend to just talk and be alone. We swam for hours, and ate in fancy dresses in our bed. I wanted to talk to her about the divorce, but for the most part my daughter had kept her feelings to herself out of fear of disappointing me and her dad. One morning, as we laid in bed eating a late brunch, she looked at me and asked me, "Why are you getting divorced? I know you still love each other." So I told her the truth.
I know the truth is heavy for a 5 year old, but I'd rather be upfront with my kids now. I don't want them to believe a lie.
When her dad and I got married, I made a promise to him. I promised to be to be true and to be faithful, but I didn't do that. I'd betrayed his trust. I let her know that we tried to work on it, and that her father was more than loving and kind to me, but that I couldn't do it anymore. She thought about it for a minute, and said, "OK, thanks for telling me. I love you. Can we go swimming again?" I sort of breathed a sigh of relief. I was nervous to tell her the truth. I worried that she'd judge me, but I'm glad I told her the truth. I know the truth is heavy for a 5 year old, but I'd rather be upfront with my kids now. I don't want them to believe a lie.
When we went home, I told my ex-husband that I'd told her, and he said that was OK. I told my son at a different time, later, when he was a little older. Even though he mostly understood what was happening, he still asks me why I don't spend the night at dad's house anymore. When I'm in the same place with his dad, which is often, he gets excited and says, "Kiss! Give each other a hug!" And though we have no problem hugging, I try to remind our son that we aren't married anymore. He's always just like, "Yeah, I know, but you still love each other." This is true. I don't enjoy lying to my children. I've barely told them about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I grew up with parents who tried to "protect" me from so much, because they assumed that as a child, I wouldn't be able to process or come to my own conclusions. As a parent now, I disagree with this. My children are beyond capable. I don't think I have to talk to them the same way I talk to other adults of course, but I don't need to water everything down simply because they're younger.
We talk to them both about their other parent honestly, using lots of love as the foundation for how we broach these topics.
My ex and I were separated for almost two years before we officially got divorced. We've continued family meals, love co-parenting together, and we celebrate the holidays together. I moved seven minutes away from our family home. The kids still spend half the week with me, and half with their dad, with a lot of overlapping. As they kids have gotten older, our conversations around our divorce have also changed. They ask a few more questions, and I go into depth even more when giving them answers. We talk to them both about their other parent honestly, using lots of love as the foundation for how we broach these topics.
We talk about what we appreciate about each other, and about why we had to go our separate ways. It's not as heavy conversation as it used to be, like it was the first time. It's lighter now. The kids are used to their parents being separated. It's become a part of their everyday lives. Now my daughter can talk about the pros of having two homes, and my son has separated his "stuffies" for each of his beds. They call their dad to invite him over to my house on weekends, and when they're going out to eat with their dad, I'll get a call asking if I can join. I'm grateful that as a family we can talk so openly with each other about the realities of love and relationships. My ex and I always talked about showing our kids an example of how love endures even in separating. And I think we're all think doing a good job of living this reality out.