We’ve talked about how to tell our children and the community that supports them of our divorce. That is no doubt the hardest and most important part. Arguably as important is being present and responsive as our children process this information.
Since my daughter was so young when my ex left, she did not have much to say in response. That didn’t stop me from being proactive though. I bought her books about growing up in a divorced home. I come from a family of readers. I remember many a day, especially Saturdays and Sundays, my mom would be on one couch reading one of her sci-fi or fantasy novels and my dad would be on the other couch reading one of his action or drama novels. From a very early age, we were encouraged to read - novels, biographies, newspapers, self-help books, absolutely anything that helped expand our mind. So when this drastic life event occurred and I was unsure how to explain it to my young child or how to help her process it, I immediately turned to books. Someone had to have thought of this before. Some scientist, pediatrician, teacher, or parent somewhere had to have gone through this and wrote a book for the rest of us. And I found they did!
The one we loved the most was “Two Homes” by Claire Masurel. It is an adorable little book that gracefully models that co-parenting creates two homes for a child that are both different but equally loving and special. My daughter absolutely loved it! She made me read it over and over again, every night before bed. Then at the end, she’d excitedly exclaim, “I have four homes! Your’s, daddy’s, Nana and Pop’s, and Granny and PaPa’s!” While I never expected nor wanted this to be her norm, I couldn’t have been happier that this book explained it so normally.
As my daughter got older, she began to have more to say in response to our divorce. As her communication and socialization increased, she began to compare her living situation with those of her friends. She’d often come home and report “[Jane] has two homes too!” or “[John] only lives with his mommy!” Or she began to come up with interesting explanations for her family dynamic. She’d tell me or her friends, “Now that I’m a big kid, daddy doesn’t need to live with us.” Or she’d say, “I live with mommy. I go to daddy’s house to play.” And she’d always say these things so quickly and casually that I’d almost miss them if I weren’t fully listening.
I learned recently that children ages 3 to 4 engage in magical thinking. Scholastic.com explains that during this stage of development, children “often use magical thinking to explain causes of events… They sometimes assign their own thinking as a reason for occurrences that are actually out of their control.” Since I never explained our life in the ways she did, this magical thinking had to be to blame for these seemingly random and simple explanations. When she’d say them, I just quietly chuckle and give a soft “mhmm”. I didn’t want to correct her, making her feel bad for misunderstanding something that was difficult for a child to understand. I also didn’t want her to begin hesitating before expressing herself to me. So I’d just stay sort of neutral. Besides, she wasn’t asking for my input on it; she always gave these explanations very decidedly!
How has your child processed it? Have you read any of these books?