Divorce, How Much Should the Kids Know? by Stacey Honowitz
Recently, I went out of town with my daughter, and my parents for business and pleasure. My parents would take my daughter to the pool for a day of swimming, crying, and fake napping. The swimming was great, the crying happened when they told her to get out of the pool, and the fake napping happened when she told them that she would nap, if they let her stay in the pool. We were having late dinners, and if she did not sleep at some point during the day, she was less than joyful later on, and would fall asleep in the booth right when dinner was being served. Needless to say, she missed a bunch of great meals.
I was able to get away for a few hours one day, and I was sitting at the edge of the pool watching her do her thing. She managed to have conversations with kids who were older (7-9) and I must say was able to hold her own at 3 1/2. It was obvious that she acts a little older as people heard her telling the pool boys to “get the net, and get the bugs out of the pool.” (as if they did not know their job). My daughter met a lot of kids who were there with both of their parents. She was watching dads toss their kids around in the pool, and would see moms and their husbands with their arms wrapped around each other. She would see, what one would consider to be the typical family, and she did not have that. Don’t get me wrong, she certainly was not neglected in any way, as my dad was in the pool teaching her swimming, tossing her around and acting like a dad. She never came crying to me about not having her dad there, and my belief is that she is used to going away without him. In as much as my father acts in a “fatherly” role to her, the truth is that he is not her father.
There was a little girl in the pool with her who was talking about her mom and dad and all the places that they had been. The other girl was telling my daughter about Disneyland, Legoland and other things. I then heard the little girl ask if I was her mother. My daughter then said, yes that is my mom in the purple bathing suit. The other girl asked “where’s your dad?” and my daughter responded “he doesn’t live with us.” She said “I live with my mom and my dog, and my dad has a different house.” The other girl said “oh, I guess your father doesn’t like your mother.”
I listened to the whole conversation, but didn’t want to jump in with a whole explanation to a seven year old. The funny thing is for a split second, I thought about what I was going to tell this kid, and how I was going to defend being single to a kid that I didn’t even know. My daughter did not say anything to me right then and there. I couldn’t figure out if she was upset by the comment or if she was feeling bad because her father wasn’t there. I know that she wasn’t feeling neglected at this point, but I was trying to read her mind after the little girl said something.
It didn’t all come to light until we got home, and my daughter spent the night at her father’s house. He called me that night and told me that our daughter had asked him, “dad, why don’t you like my mom?” (meaning me). He told her “I do like I your mom” and she said “well, mom told me that you don’t like her.” He then asked if I said that. I told him that she has asked me on a number of occasions why you don’t live with us. Quite frankly, I don’t know what yo say. She’s not stupid, and would just keep asking. I probably did say at some point, “I don’t know, I guess he doesn’t like me.” He was all huffy and said “why would you say that to her?”
Here’s the thing, what do you say to a young child when they ask a question like that. If I as the mother, do not know the answer as to why my husband left, the only logical conclusion one could draw, is that he doesn’t like the person he was living with anymore. Logic would dictate that if he did, he would still be here. So my question remains, what do I tell my child. Do I make up a lie and say that dad and I still like each other when its not true? Even if there was a reason (can’t think of one other than cheating) it makes sense that one person is out because they don’t like the person anymore. I have to be honest with her. Lying to her now would lead to mistrust later on in life. How much do we tell? Do we try and sugarcoat things so that they don’t hate the person who left? I will always wonder, I will never know the correct answer, I can only say what feels right to me. She is entitled to answers, and I am going to give them to her, she can process them however she chooses.