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.