Why it's important for children of divorce to hear-and understand-why their parents split.
BY: Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee
So to begin, I suggest you answer the opening question. You can correct the teacher's view—which reflects your child's questioning—by saying, "Yes, people have different ideas about divorce. Some people think it's very wrong and that everybody should stay married. Your dad [or mom] and I feel differently. We divorced because living together made us unhappy. We thought about it a long time before we decided. It was not a rushed decision. But your teacher may be saying that he thinks it was too hard on you kids." Your son has a right to remain silent while he's thinking about what you said. Or he may say, "You bet it was hard." Or he may assure you, "Naw, it was fine. Don't worry, Mom." No matter what his response, you have left the door open to continue the conversation when he's ready…
However you phrase your reply, you have an opportunity to repeat your explanation of what led to your divorce in a language appropriate to your child's age and new level of understanding. You have a chance to clarify what happened to your family and why. It should always be an open dialogue, not a secret that no one can talk about. This is important because your child needs your help to create a continuing life story for himself. Some parents try to erase the past, as if the family before the divorce never existed. In starting over, they assiduously avoid talking about the old neighborhood and what life used to be like. It's too painful. Better to get on with the future.
This kind of censorship can impair your child's sense of who he is by eradicating a portion of his life from memory—and I mean that literally. I was shocked to discover in my work that some young adults can't remember anything about family life before the divorce. .. is a serious gap in their identity that scares them. Your children need to understand that their pre- and post-divorce lives are chapters in a family history in which they're leading characters. Remember, they didn't ask for the divorce. They didn't ask to change their family or to have parents who live in separate households. Their wish as they get older is to make sense out of what happened then and what's happening now—the whole story without deleted chapters.