One of the many reasons people stay with cheaters is the abject fear of putting their children through a divorce. And yet when things fall apart and it comes time to tell the kids, that job usually falls to the injured party — chumps.
How do you tell a child their parents are breaking up? And how do you serve the rest of your co-parenting sentence with a characterless creep? These were some of the questions Sarah and I had for parenting expert Sue Atkins in our latest Tell Me How You’re Mighty podcast episode.
Don’t slag off the other parent. (No editorializing.)
Even though the FW richly deserves it. Even if they’ve swanned off and left. Even if you’re incandescent with rage.
“You are their blueprint for love,” says Sue.
Children, generally speaking, still love the lousy parent. That FW you bred with is part of them and it’s their right to love them. And it’s your right to have boundaries with a FW. Stay the course as the sane parent. The FW isn’t modeling good things, but you can. You don’t NEED to slag off the other parent — let the behavior speak for itself.
Reassure kids with what you DO know. “I’m here for you.” “Yes, your hamster will still be here, and you’ll sleep in this bed.” “I love you.” Just be their rock. Kids know who shows up and who doesn’t.
Have a plan.
As much as you can, prepare yourself for hard encounters. It’s so easy to get broadsided, but you can listen to your kids’ concerns and make age-appropriate scripts. (They’re probably thinking about tangibles that affect them, versus the gory details of your heartbreak). Think about how you want to parent.
“Get a pillow and go have a rant somewhere else about the injustice of it all, but [when you’re with your kids] have a clear message you want to impart.”
The specifics depend on your situation, but Cool, Bummer, Wow works too when you want to change the subject.
Wear a suit of armor.
Even Sue finds some “co” parents absolutely exasperating. For those close encounters of the FW kind, like hostage drop-off kid exchanges:
“I imagine putting on a suit of armor, where nothing could touch or reach me. Take a deep breath… and literally step back, because it would remind me to detach.”
How did you explain divorce to your kids? Any advices for the newbies?
For more about Sue Atkins, check out her website, complete with blog, videos, and worksheets for every parenting dilemma. And of course, listen to our interview with Sue at Tell Me How You’re Mighty!