Talking to my child about the divorce and explaining what it means for both of us has been a cause of worry for me from the moment I stepped out of my marriage.
Though at that time, I had time in my favour.
My daughter was hardly a year old and that reassured me that I’d be better prepared to talk about it by the time my girl would be old enough to understand its nuances.
These thoughts would make me freeze in fear.
I was confused about;
When should I talk to her?
What should I tell her?
How would I reassure her that having only one parent around (as against what she saw in her friend’s families) would not make a difference, especially when I was myself unsure how it will all turn out?
Should I seek help to make it easier for my child to understand?
How would I even begin? And once I started talking, where exactly should I draw the line?
I could feel my heart racing and sweat beads form on my forehead despite the airconditioning, every single time.
Explaining a divorce to the kids is perhaps the hardest part about a divorce because you know that it will cause pain and confusion to the ones you love the most.
All went well in Pari’s pre-school years. But as she grew old enough to attend school, I could hear my sub-conscience tell me that the time when I had to finally do the talking was near.
When Pari started learning about herself, she learnt her father’s name. Every time I would make her learn the name, she would address her grandpa with it.
If you’re new to the blog, you might not know that I got divorced when Pari was hardly a year old. Her biological father never took any interest in her and as a result, Pari has never seen him. My father has been the father figure in my daughter’s life from day one.
No wonder, my daughter always looked up to him for everything when she was taught about who a father is.
Anyway, I digress.
When Pari started kindergarten, I knew it was time she understood why she did not have her father around.
However, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get myself to do it.
At that time, I was pretty sure I had moved on in my life and had reached a point where talking freely about my married life wouldn’t disturb me.
I was sadly mistaken.
Something in my mind was convinced that this was not the right time to touch upon this subject. While my daughter might have been grown up enough to understand what I was saying, I found myself not ready to handle the (possible) after questions.
I did not want to land unprepared to deliver perhaps the most important talk I had to have with my child. That’s when I decided to do a little homework.
I started rehearsing the talk. But it only added to my anxiety about the issue.
I sought solace in reading.
Everything I read, hinted at breaking the news sooner than later.
However, there was one major difference.
Every article I read, talked about the parents talking to their children about the separation/divorce as it happens.
But this didn’t apply in my case.
That changed everything.
My top priority was talking to Pari openly and calmly about her biological father. I couldn’t let my hurt feelings get in the way.
While it was rather tempting (and often suggested by the extended family) to not talk about this topic because anyway her father was never around, I was convinced this was definitely not the right thing to do.
Though Pari never asked any questions, I would often wonder if she was curious to know about her father.
I needed a plan. A strategy. A way of conveying all that I wanted to say to her at a level of understanding that she could grasp.
When I had had enough of guessing, one lazy afternoon while Pari and I were busy reading our own books, I gently started talking about my life with her father.
The stark differences in my life now from the time when I was married actually served well in making the conversation easy and interesting. I had yet not let my guard down and was not talking much about her father.
The conversation flowed effortlessly and I continued answering any questions that Pari asked before she fell asleep.
I could feel a strange sense of peace fill my heart. The joy of having finally taken the first step in the direction of overcoming my fears encouraged me to go ahead and write about it in my journal.
I was amazed by how normal our conversation had been, simply because I didn’t try to start the talk with the uncomfortable facts.
As the days followed, I took care to effortlessly share snippets of my married life with Pari.
This has been a big game changer.
One, it has helped me warm up to talking about every aspect of my life, including the divorce without an iota of unease.
Secondly, I can sense my daughter feel relaxed every time she is curious to know more about her father.
If you’ve been through a divorce that involved kids you’d be well aware how important these conversations are.
More so, if you’re living in a conservative society that is still in the learning phase of accepting divorces without harshly judging a divorcee.
These thoughts don’t bother me but still, the parent in me is often stressed about the possible biases my child might face being raised by a single mom.
On all these times, the only thought I feel ringing in my head is to arm my daughter with ample information and guidance about the divorce, its implications and my past life that no one can ever use any part of it against her.
While that’s what the mother in me hopes to achieve, I know it’s going to be a rather long, arduous journey of making it happen. The biggest roadblock being I can only share age-appropriate details with my daughter.
Opening up the channels of free talk has made us both feel relaxed to broach this topic anywhere with ease. That has been quite an achievement (for me) in itself.
In the course of making open talk about divorce happen, I have learnt these important lessons:
1. Trust your kids to understand what you’re talking irrespective of their age
We, parents, often underestimate our child’s maturity and shy away from freely talking about the issues that are affecting them on a daily basis. It doesn’t make sense to leave our children guessing or be at the mercy of half-baked information from strangers who might not have their best interests in mind.
2. It is important to reassure our kids that none of this is because of them
This has been the most important point in my talks with Pari.
Pari’s father drifted away and took no interest in Pari and this is why my daughter has never met her biological father. Though it can be tough to explain to a child, it is crucial that I help Pari understand that the divorce or anything that happened around that time was never because of her.
It is critical that as soon as possible, we tell the kids directly that it has nothing to do with them and that it’s something daddy and mommy have decided on together.
3. It helps to discuss such topics repeatedly from time to time
Making it a one-time talk is not a good idea because bombarding our children with plenty of information can be too taxing for them.
Besides, when talking about the divorce had been so overwhelming for me, as an adult, it can surely prove to be the same for my child. Talking in bits and pieces over time has been working well for me.
4. Keep your adult issues out of the way
It’s hard to maintain normal good parenting or an open mind when you are grieving a lost relationship, battling depression and struggling with the chaotic life of being a single parent.
I struggled for a long time with my own emotional turmoils to feel confident enough to talk to my child.
Though once I initiated the conversation, I learnt how critical it was that the adults keep their grieving, hurt and pain aside and not let it paint our words.
Having a support system in place, with support from family and trusted friends can immensely help in achieving this. My support system has played a key role in keeping me sane when I struggled with Pari’s anger issues and tantrums.
5. Time it well
It helps to make time for these talks than leaving them to be done at times when you’re pressed for time or your child can’t participate attentively.
Talking over the weekend when both the parent and the child have free time and there is room to accommodate any tantrums, getting upset or emotional with patient reassurances is helpful.
6. There’s only a start point but never an ending
After our initial discussion, I realised that though I felt lighter, my work was far from finished. Pari took a while to process what’s happening. She needed extra time to process the new information.
In this important phase, it helped to pay extra attention to her. However, children never act predictably. Pari seemed to have internalised all I told her and expressed it only in the form seeking extra attention from me.
However, with time, she has been asking a lot of questions over and over, which I believe is a healthy sign. Being patient with her questions is my best bet.
7. Be honest and fair
While it might seem harmless to honestly talk to Pari about why her parents decided to part ways. But given her tender age, I think it would be wise to stick to age-appropriate details without highlighting who was in the wrong and why.
While I do not aim at painting a rosy picture of my past life, I do not wish to fill my daughter’s heart with undue pain or hatred simply because she is too young to comprehend the facts or has access to only my part of the story.
I have set the stone rolling and have been at work in helping get the core messages right.
At this point, the best I can do is help my child understand our life’s reality in its honest form while being around to answer her queries to the best of my ability.
I sincerely hope that with my earnest efforts, I can help her realise that we are together in this as a team. And that we are enough.
The song on my mind: Is Mod se Jaate Hain ~ Aandhi