Divorce is one of the most difficult events we will ever go through and, because we are good parents (if you weren’t you wouldn’t be here reading this!), we understand that our kids are struggling too. One of the reasons divorce is hard on our kids is because of the way children think at certain ages.
Young children see things from a limited, self-focused perspective. They find it difficult to put themselves in others’ shoes and will often think they are the cause of events, including your divorce.
This is why it’s so important that we as parents address the questions our children have–the spoken and unspoken ones. They have things they need to wrap their heads around and if we don’t answer their questions two things can happen:
1) They answer them by themselves. If we don’t allow time to discuss the separation, our children will come to their own conclusions about what’s going on. As humans, we are designed to make connections and observations to gain an understanding of our world. Children are fantastic at observing! They notice everything. EVERYTHING. But they are not so good at interpreting what they see. Children will often misinterpret a situation or view things as directly related to themselves. They will blame themselves, think other people’s actions are their fault, or misunderstand what someone says or does.
2) They will get answers from other people. If they think we are too stressed, busy, upset or unavailable to talk to they will ask the other parent, a friend, or older siblings. Some of these people may answer well and help your child understand the separation. But others may not.
Dealing with the grief of separation
Separation is a grieving process for you and your children. They have to work hard at rearranging a whole heap of thoughts and ideas about life, themselves, love, and the future. They are grieving, but you are too. Sometimes it can feel way too hard to answer their questions or know the right way to talk to them about everything that’s going on.
Why are you crying mum? Why did you fight? Is he your new boyfriend? It can all be a bit much.
And then there are the questions they don’t say out loud–Will you stop loving me too? Can I fix it?
That is why after my own divorce, feeling overwhelmed by my kids questions at times and knowing it was important to talk to them about it, I decided to write a resource for myself and other parents going through the same thing.
Kids Ask Hard Questions: 15 questions kids during separation and divorce (and how to answer them) is research and experience-based, easy to read and helps you give your kids the answers they need without having to do it all alone. You can download the ebook completely free here.
The following is an extract from the ebook to give you an idea of how it can help you answer those tricky questions with less stress–because dealing with your own stuff is stressful enough as it is during a divorce.
Is it my fault?
Your child probably won’t directly ask this but, sadly, many children after separation believe it was their fault somehow (especially those under age 7). This is where the idea I was talking about before comes in: kids are great observers, poor interpreters.
They may have heard or seen you fight about them. Arguments on how to deal with discipline and child care are some of the most common for couples. Even if they didn’t see or hear this, young children are egocentric, the world is about them, and so in their minds, often, the separation is about them too.
Whether they ask it or not, your children will want to know if it was their fault.
Repeatedly tell them “This is not your fault. It is between mummy and daddy.” If they are told it’s their fault in some way by another person or the other parent (this does happen!) then reassure them that it’s not, they are loved and amazing.
Guilt over a break-up can cause a child to think thoughts like:
“If I’m really good, they’ll get back together.”
“I’m too much to handle.”
“I’m not worth sticking around for.” (If a parent doesn’t have much contact)
“If I wasn’t here they would be okay.”
- Children might not ask this out loud.
- Tell them it’s not their fault more than once.
- Reassure them often that they are loved, and amazing.
I am hoping this guide to 15 common questions that kids ask (or want to but don’t know how to express) will help you have open, loving discussions with your children as you guide them through this very difficult time in your lives.
Obviously, every situation will be unique and these are just suggestions and discussions to get you started. What works in your case may be different. You know your children best so go with what you believe will be the most gentle, helpful approach. Sometimes “I don’t know” is the best or only answer. And sometimes all you need to do is sit, cuddle and listen.
I’m always keen to meet new parents too so flick me an email! I reply to every message.
Until next time,