Q: The parents of a close friend of my son recently separated and are now facing a judicial divorce (with litigation). My son only asked if I knew that his friend's father was no longer living at home to which I replied "yes." Both my son and his friend are six years old. I also have a 4-year-old girl and would like to discuss the subject of divorce with them in an appropriate manner. Your response in light of their tender age is appreciated.
A: While the "yes" in your reply is a good beginning, it's probably not what your son really wants to know. When hearing of divorce/separation from their friends, the questions that children don't know how to verbalize but need answers to, include:
"Will we be next?"
- "What will happen to the father-child relationship when a father moves out?"
- "If parents can stop loving each other, can they stop loving their children?"
The primary need is one of reassurance. You need to tell your son that his daddy is not going anywhere, (assuming this is true, if this is not, then it's a whole different answer.) We're okay and our family ― Daddy, me and you kids ― will continue as is.
The primary need is one of reassurance ― that Daddy is not going anywhere.
The secondary need is connected to the sadness and fear experienced for his friend. Some six-year-olds are more sophisticated than others. Keep your answers matter of fact, simple, and to the point.
You can certainly talk about the difference between spousal love and parental love. How the love of a parent is forever and is not dependent on anything else, and how many fathers maintain the close relationship with their child, even after a divorce. It is essential for you to continue to reassure your son that your family's stability is not at risk.
Keep Things Simple
The situation is a little different for your four-year-old daughter. She's not asking but that doesn't mean that she hasn't picked up the tension in the air from her brother. She too needs to know that Daddy is staying right where he is and that everything is okay in our family.
As far as the details of her brother's friend are concerned, the less, the better. Very simple statements are best, such as: His daddy has to go away, but your daddy does not. Everything is okay here. Your brother is sad for his friend.
Talk About God
If you are comfortable with talking with your kids about religion and God, here's a good opportunity. Actually, even if you're not so comfortable, it's a good idea.
Principles could include the following:
- God runs the world.
- God cares about, and loves each of us individually (your son's friend as well) and will take care of him and us. Try to trust Him.
- Painful events can happen in life and this does not negate the two previous principles.
Close any discussion on the subject of divorce by reminding your children that you and your husband will love them for always.