Silly me. I thought that if I made my life as stable as humanly possible, I would be able to maintain my daughters’ sense of security despite my abrupt divorce nearly a year and a half ago. I thought I had parenting through divorce figured out.
I don’t control my daughters’ world, though. My job as a mother is to give them the tools they need to navigate life’s challenges, not to keep them from experiencing them. It’s so tempting, though, to want to keep them away from heartache, that it’s a good thing that hiding my babies away isn’t a real option.
On the night before Thanksgiving, J and M learned that their father was getting divorced again, this time from the stepmother they’d come to love in the year and a half since she entered their lives. He told M and J that their stepsisters were no longer their sisters. When J countered that we’d already bought their Christmas presents, he told her to tell me to return them. I quickly told her that she and her former stepsisters could continue their relationship regardless of their parents’ marital status. My ex-husband texted me his ex-wife’s address as soon as he got off the phone and we’ll be dropping their gifts in the mail.
As J told me once she was done sobbing, “I feel like Melissa [her stepmother] has one arm and Daddy has one arm and you have one leg and Dustin [a friend of mine J is very close to] has one leg and I’m being pulled apart.”
M had an open conversation with her grandmother. “I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t Melissa want a long-distance relationship? Daddy’s in the army. I have a long-distance relationship with him too. I have a long-distance relationship with you! Mommy and Daddy had a relationship for lots of years!”
I can’t say I agree with my ex’s choice to explain the entirety of his second divorce as being his ex-wife’s choice. While he was the one to leave me, I felt that it was important that my daughters see me take responsibility for my own shortcomings. To each their own, though. Our daughters are smart and observant, and I imagine that it was very hard for him to answer their questions. I’m used to talking to them openly and honestly and it still took a year before J did finally got me to admit that I had agreed to our divorce, but not wanted it.
The girls had practical questions. What had happened to the bunk bed with their names on it at their stepmom’s house? Were stepmom and stepsisters still living in the apartment they’d visited? Would they ever see them again? Why had this happened?
Children always want to know why, and they always think it’s their fault. I reminded my daughters of the book Was It the Chocolate Pudding? and that divorce is never a child’s fault. I didn’t hear them blaming themselves, but I wanted to be sure.
Both girls told me that they didn’t want to tell anyone about Daddy’s second divorce because they were embarrassed. They were both especially concerned about Divorce Club, the school support group for kids of divorce. They wanted to be honest but didn’t want to talk about it and felt torn.
I asked J whether she’d be willing to tell her teacher and she said yes. I called Mrs. H right away, as she celebrated Thanksgiving Eve at her parents’ house. J came away from that conversation feeling much more safe and closer to being ready to talk about the divorce with others. We were all reminded that people don’t have to officially or legally be our mothers to love us as if we were their daughters.
My little girls are 7 and they have been through things that would have broken adults. Their resilience puts me to shame. The day after they had their hearts broken yet again, they threw themselves into a joyous Thanksgiving. We had a genuinely happy day, although Daddy’s most recent divorce did come up in conversation a couple of times.
At bedtime, I reminded the girls to say their prayers.
“Thank you, Lord,” J said, her hands pressed together and her eyes closed, “for my family who loves me. Thank you for all my nice things and for all my yummy food and making the world and everything. I am very grateful.”
“Hey, J,” I prompted, “don’t you want to ask for help during a rough time? Like maybe for understanding or peace or feeling better?”
“Nope,” she responded. “I get that stuff from you.”
I know there will be a day when my child no longer needs me, and the teen years before that when she no longer wants me. For now, though, I’ll fill my role as her stability, strength and guide to the best of my ability. My sweet M doesn’t quite have her sister’s emotional awareness or talent for heart-melting one-liners, but I know she shares J’s strength and sunny outlook. I hope that she also feels that I give her strength and understanding. I do my best, as every mother does.
Have you ever had to discuss someone else’s divorce with your children? How did you approach it?
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.