Divorced Single Dad Tested by Seven-Year-Old

Posted by admin on Nov 25, 2009 in Tips for Single and Partnered Parents |

Hi Everyone,

A single dad friend of mine wrote to me about the questions his seven-year-old daughter posed in regards to his divorce. He’d love some input and suggestions, so please chime in.

Here’s what his email said:

“I would welcome your insight into a matter which my daughter raised the other day, before we both went to bed. This has never come up before, and I was a bit surprised when she brought it up. The question was: “ why aren’t (and can’t) you and mommy stay married?” I suppose I knew this question would come up at some point, but I did not anticipate it when she asked. I told her that I understood how she felt, but maybe it was something we could talk about later. Not the best answer, but obviously I need some time to think about how I approach this with her (and need to discuss it with her mother). Anyhow, I would welcome and appreciate any comments you may have regarding this topic. Hope you and your crew have a great holiday!”

Well, I used to get this same question from my daughter (as all single parents probably do).  And she even went as far as to suggest that all of us could live in a giant house together, but my ex-husband and I could remain divorced :-)!

First, I think there’s no issue with telling your child that you can’t answer right away, you need to think about what the answer is, because it’s not easy, and because they’ve asked a really, really good question. (And of course she’ll ask you why you can’t just answer; to which I’ve said: “I’m being honest; I don’t know how to answer right now. But I will. How about if we talk about it in seven years?”) Only kidding. I actually said, “Let’s talk Saturday.”

When my daughter and I sat down to talk, I started by telling her that her father and I were two very different people. And sometimes, people get married thinking they will either stay the same or change in the same way, and sometimes it all works, like with Big Nana and Naani (my parents, now married forty-eight lovely years). And other times it doesn’t. I said I just wanted different things from my life. Of course, my daughter wanted to know what *specifically* I wanted that was so different. And I said something like, “I’m not sure I can list everything, but if you think about what it’s like at my house, and then what it’s like at your dad’s house, can you tell how different it is?” She nodded emphatically in agreement. “Well, see, we are just so different Honey.” “You mean like how daddy likes to watch TV a lot more?” And I smiled and said, “I guess that is one difference, but really, I just knew I would be happier and you would be happier if we weren’t married.” And she seemed to understand this answer, though she asked the same question several more times (to fact check me, no doubt). Kids need to hear answers to certain questions many times – and this was one of them.

At one point, she did ask me if our divorce had anything to do with her, and I stopped what I was doing immediately to assure her it didn’t and before I had her, I was wishing and wishing I would have a baby just like her. This made her smile. ”Mom, were you so happy that out of all the babies flying around in heaven, Bhagavanji gave you me?” I nodded as emphatically as she did, enjoying her sweet, youthful logic. I mused over her blend of heaven and Bhagavanji (that’s God in Hindi).

My daughter first asked me this question when she was six. Now, at eight, she sometimes remarks that it’s surprising to her that her dad and I were ever married because we are so different. It’s good she knows that. Sometimes it’s a little painful for me that my sweet eight-year-old girl even has to think about it. But it is our reality. I have also told her that her dad and I had many good times in the beginning, as I want her to know it wasn’t always split holidays and silence. Finally, I tell her I am really impressed by her question (I say impressed because I don’t want to admit I am stumped…uh, thinking) and, I’m really glad she is comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings with me.

It sounds like you have a strong relationship with your ex-wife; one where the two of you can talk to your daughter jointly and separately, which is really wonderful, because the two of you can assure her it had nothing to do with her and you both love her tremendously.

I hope that helps and thanks for sharing your question.  Keep ’em coming. 


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  • Theta Mom says:

    Thank you so much for the follow from MBC! Google Friend Connect won’t let me sign in right now. 🙁 I’ve been having an issue, hopefully it will resolve itself soon so I can follow you back!

    BTW, your blog reminds me of one I follow called The Grown Up Child. Caroyln writes about divorce and its effects on children, as she is a child of divorce herself…based on this post, thought it would interest you. She’s a great write and blogger. She’s at http://www.thegrownupchild.ca

    It was great to “meet” you and I look forward to blogging with you! 🙂

  • Rebecca says:

    I”ve had the same question from my 6 and 8-year olds several times. Like you I answer that I loved their dad very much when we were married and when they were born, but that we are very different people and that sometimes people change too much to stay married. I’ve also said at different points that we are both happier when we are not together/not married and that is better for (you) kids to be in a happier home, but once I got the response, ‘well, it may be better for you, but it’s not better for me’. Fair enough.

    I agree giving a consistent response, and no bad-mouthing (though some days that is harder than others) is the best response. If they know you are always giving the same response they know they can count on it, like the sun coming up in the morning. I know my kids, especially my 6-year old girl, needs lots of reassurance how much I love her, more so since her dad rarely checks in, but they are also figuring things out on their own. I just bought a ping-pong table and am having heated matches with my borrowed 16-year old every night. I asked my younger kids if they minded and my son said, ‘not at all, I like to hear you laugh’. They sure didn’t hear that sound from me when I was married, so I’m guessing it will work out in their heads that it was better and not the end of the world. I hope.

  • Swati says:

    Rebecca – what a beautiful response from your son about hearing you laugh. And it’s a really good point you make about kids needing consistent responses for re-assurance. Thanks for the add.

  • Swati says:

    Hi Theta Mom –
    Thanks for that reference; I will most certainly check it out as it always helps to compare notes with people :-)!

    Hope to see you back soon…..


  • Robin Arthur says:

    Whoa…that’s a tough one. I think the truth is always the best policy, but make sure not to criticize your ex (as tough as that might be) or involve your child as part of the reason. Duh, right?

    Most marriages these days end in divorce. I don’t think it’s as painful for kids now as it was a long time ago. For a while, when my daughter was younger, about 99.9% of her friends were from divorced homes. It’s more common than uncommon. I bet if you’re just really frank and direct with your kiddo, it’ll make sense to him after a while.

    After you talk to him some more about it, take him out for ice cream. 🙂

  • What a great post. I remember asking my parents these questions as a kid too. Sometimes I have to stop and try to remember what it was like to be a kid, because as a parent, sometimes I forget that little kids can have really big, powerful thoughts. I think it is wonderful that you take your daughter so seriously and answer her questions with such honesty and love.

  • Swati says:

    Thanks Naomi. I really try to. It’s one of those things where you always have about 3 conversations going in your head at the same time, trying to figure out what the best answer is!

  • Swati says:

    Really good point Robin – divorce is so common, our kids don’t have to feel like they are the only ones experiencing these feelings. And ice cream ALWAYS helps!

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