Those of you who’ve been reading this blog regularly for a while know that my family has been through a lot in the last couple of years. We moved across the state; the girls started kindergarten in a town where they knew no one; they skipped up to first grade midyear; my ex and I suddenly divorced; the girls and I moved back home but to a new house and new school; my ex remarried and added two stepsisters to the mix along with stepmom within 8 months of the divorce.
The girls’ school has been an amazing source of support and solace during all this upheaval. In addition to gifted and deeply committed teachers, the school counselors have been nothing short of stellar. They even host a program called Divorce Club in which all children from divorced families can participate. It really helped my daughters, now aged 7, realize that they weren’t alone in the world of separated parents and blended families.
As a result of Divorce Club, my daughters felt especially close to their counselors. J, in particular, sought them out with some regularity to talk through the things that were on her mind. At the end of last year, the school counselors suggested that I consider getting my daughters into play therapy. While they were remarkably well-adjusted, they had been through an awful lot, and the two school counselors had to spread themselves among the 800+ children at school.
I didn’t end up getting my daughters into therapy until last month. Things were just too hectic over the summer and the first, highly recommended, therapist I tried to contact never returned my calls. When this school year started, one of the school therapists had moved to a different school district and the other was approaching maternity leave, so it seemed like an excellent time to find my daughters someone else they felt comfortable sharing their worries with.
We found a lovely counselor we all liked. At our first appointment, the three of us went in together and chatted. The girls were given paper and crayons and allowed to play freely, snack on doughnut holes, and play with the therapy dog. The therapist asked them why we were there. M wasn’t sure. J said it was because of the divorce. The therapist asked whether they worried about Mommy. They looked at her blankly. The therapist asked what Mommy did for fun. The girls agreed that I played on my computer. She asked them what they thought about the divorce. M thought that having a stepmother and stepsisters was great. J said she missed her Daddy.
During the next session, the therapist shared her impressions of the girls and their needs, since the girlies weren’t willing yet to talk to her without me there. I’d done a great job, she told me, but she worried that J was ready to write Daddy off completely and M may have already done so. She asked whether they were in the school’s gifted program, since they were clearly intellectually and verbally precocious. She would like to meet with the girls together and separately so they weren’t answering for each other and feeding off each other so much. She had me list Daddy’s combat history for context.
In our third session, I met with the therapist without the girls, while they went and drew pictures with her assistant and the therapy dog. I was able to share my concerns openly and honestly without fearing that I was imposing my worries or perspectives on the girls. The therapist told me that she felt that both my daughters had a lot of loss to process. She would help them grieve in as constructive a way as possible.
She cancelled our next appointment because her children had come into town with her grandkids to surprise her for her birthday.
When we went in for the next appointment, there was a note on the door. All her appointments were cancelled for the foreseeable future. There was a phone number to call, but it wasn’t hers. “Strange,” I thought, and pulled out my phone to transcribe the number.
A woman in an adjoining office poked her head out. “She died,” she told me helpfully.
“She went to the hospital Monday. She died.”
J began to cry and I picked her up and held her. I pulled M to me. I asked them what they wanted to do. J wasn’t ready to leave. She told me that she felt close to her therapist in her office, so we went and sat in her waiting room for about 15 minutes and snuggled. J wanted to visit her office and I let her. She was ready to go outside.
We stood by the little pond nearby and talked for another 15 minutes. I tried to draw M out, but she was clearly more worried about her sister than the therapist or herself. J pondered the concept of fairness. She thought about all her loved ones (mostly pets, ours and friends’) who had died. M tried to comfort her with talk of Heaven, but J explained that it wasn’t much help. She was mad that she was so young and was going to have to wait so very long to die and see people she cared about in Heaven.
It turned out that J had been doubting the existence of God for a few months, thanks to overhearing disagreements in Biblical interpretation and pondering the existence of different religions. I told her that religious belief was a choice. She had to choose for herself what to believe. I wished I could just tell her what was to be believed, but I couldn’t do so honestly. I’m an atheist and she knows it. Finally, I told her that I believed in love. It wasn’t rational or sensible, but it was something I believed in with all my being. That comforted her.
“I believe in love too, Mommy. And God is love. So I believe in God.”
That will tide her over for now. We went into town and got Amy’s ice cream, the ultimate comfort food.
Now both J and M have yet another loss to deal with. J says she’s not ready to find another counselor. I called the school and let both the teachers and the substitute counselors know what had happened.
I’m just waiting for M to explode in anger, as she does at times like this. It’ll be within the next week, I think, and then we’ll find out what she’s been feeling.
What do you do when you have to help your children cope with adult emotions?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.