Monday, August 6, 2012

What to say or not to say

Last June, a hurting father contacted me by email and wondered if he could ask me a question. Sure, I agreed. A few weeks later, he wrote back. 

"I have tried to not say anything negative to my kids about their mother at all," he said in his note. "This has not been true on her end. I have been encouraged by a number of people to be more open with my kids, especially the older ones (17, 14 and 11) about some of the reasons I chose to leave. I am struggling with this balance."

I thought about his dilemma several days before I wrote the father back, most of which I decided to share here as a blog post.

"Basically, I've come to realize that as much as we parents long for our children to understand the reasons behind our divorces, our children do NOT want to know," I told him. "From what I've observed from my own two, I think children of divorce get tired of hearing the back-and-forth between their parents, and they simply want to have their mom and dad back. In answer to your question, you're handling the situation correctly. Your former spouse isn't. And there isn't anything you can do about her. I think if I were you, I'd wait and let the kids ask questions about why you left; don't initiate. If they do, keep answers short and factual. I think the main thing is to speak as positive as you can about their mother (I know, it's hard under the circumstances). They'll respect you even more in the long run for that.

"It's just been in the past year," I added, "that I've really tried in conversations with my grown kids to refer to my former husband (I never liked like the term 'ex' doesn't sound respectful to me) as 'Dad,' not 'your father.' Like 'how's Dad?' and 'What did Dad think about that?' To me, that sounds more familial, not accusatory."

This hurting father wrote me a "thank you" back. I hope my thoughts did help in some way. Maybe in some small way they'll help someone else, too.