It seems inevitable that after a divorce, one or both ex-spouses move on. They find new people and create new lives or — if kids are involved — an extension of the life they had before. Some move on faster than others do. My ex-husband moved from my house to his girlfriend's house right away. The impact it had on my children prompted me to put dating and finding someone for myself on the back burner indefinitely.
Though he has moved on and thinks that everything is A-OK with the kids, I filter the millions of questions that they randomly toss at me. I guess because I am their source of stability, they feel like they can ask me instead of him, which is typical of children.
But talking to kids about divorce, new friends and the reality of a new stepmother is not a task I take lightly. I have to be very careful about how I respond and the words I choose. I try to remember that my answers will help them regain some sort of control over their feelings and help them accept the new situation more quickly.
Below are some tips I have for talking to kids about Daddy's new girlfriend. They seem to be working for me.
In the beginning, I was dealing with my own feelings about his choices, and I found myself starting to cut my children off when they had questions. I had to consciously take a deep breath and listen to what they were asking. Sometimes, just by talking it out with them, I felt better, too. Questions about who she is and why he chose her over them were hard to listen to and answer. But even if I said, "I honestly don't know," I felt like just by being there, it made things easier on them.
Kids do not experience the same heartfelt pain we do. My pain is born of years of dealing with a failing marriage. Theirs is based on the fear of not understanding the changes around them.
According to Marsha Temlock, author of Your Child's Divorce: What to Expect? What You Can Do (Amazon, $18), "You have to understand that children go through different developmental stages and they move at different rates."
I had to try to put myself in their shoes and understand that they did not see that Mommy and Daddy are better apart — they just see that he is gone.
It is so hard in the throes of divorce, or even afterward, to accept that our ex-spouses have moved on — even if we wanted out of the marriage. But when kids ask questions, choosing your words carefully is imperative. Saying, "Daddy loves her more" or "Daddy wants to live with her" only deepens the children's confusion. That may be how we feel, but kids cannot understand it. On the other hand, "Daddy and Mommy have decided that we are better parents apart" is the truth and is also easier for kids to understand.
It is so easy to brush off a child's questions or comments when you are in the throes of figuring it all out yourself. But responses that are tainted with your own emotions can be harmful to a child. I try to stop and ask the kids to repeat themselves so that I can get into the right frame of mind. The last thing you want to do is confuse them more by discounting what they are saying and giving them a comment that could be born of frustration. That's not helpful to them at all.
This, I think, is the hardest thing to do when it comes to talking about Daddy's new girlfriend. But when the kids ask, we owe them this much. Yes, she will love you, too (we hope). No, she will not replace me as your mom. Yes, Daddy still loves you. Even when they ask why he can't leave her and come back to them, you need to be as honest as possible. Remember that the whole point of being a responsible parent is to guide your children through every stage, even stages in your life that are hard for you to get through.
My kids have asked everything you can imagine and a whole bunch of stuff I never expected. As I pick up the pieces of my life, I am also responsible for making sure they have no pieces of their own left hanging around. Because no matter how awesome the new girlfriend is or how much fun they seem to have with her when they see her, I am still their mother, and it is my job to make sure they come out of this stronger and happier!
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