Life is full of questions.
As children, asking questions is an excellent way of learning about the world around you. As parents, we are bombarded with these questions, and we have the responsibility and privilege of answering them.
However, the answer to questions such as “Why did you and Dad split up,” are not always that simple to answer, especially during highly emotionally charged times and times of change and hardship.
But perhaps the greatest unasked questions of all, which can be expressed in various ways, are “Was it my fault?”
As a single parent, it is my job to provide a clear answer in language that can be really understood, especially as my children are young. More than that, I had to provide practical plans and emotional back up to help that question be truly answered in their head and in their heart.
In today’s diverse society, there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ family. Our kids hear stories from life at home from other kids at school, but that doesn’t necessarily make them think their family isn’t ‘normal’. There are many young people today who would like to ask more questions of their parents, if they had the courage and support to do so. All kids are looking for something that identifies who they are and where they belong. There are children everywhere crying out for peace in their lives and inside themselves, and they don’t necessarily have to be from separated parents.
Opening honest lines of communication with our kids is sometimes a scary proposition. Mainly I think this is the case because we don’t practice what we preach.
Children are very conscious of failure. Just as it will take a few changes and chances for you and your ex-partner to get the arrangement right, so will your kids need a period of transition. It is something they are living with every day, just like you. Children can often feel afraid or ashamed to speak about what they are feeling and may not want to upset or anger you. Do not underestimate the real sense of loss and failure your child could be feeling.
We don’t want our kids to be on the front rank of the separation battle, but sometimes, we may not be able to protect them from it. We need to give them the tools and ammunition required for them to defend themselves if needed. Nobody should be forced to go into battle on your behalf, so let your child know that he doesn’t have to choose a side, even though he may feel caught in the crossfire.
Children of separated and divorced parents can find themselves in for a battle. To this day, society can label them as ‘troubled’. Kids will be tested in life, not only about their family situation, but about their friends, what they wear, what they do and who they are. Being raised by a single parent can be a battle, but it can also be a blessing. Let your kids know they are not fighting a losing battle. Never give anyone else the right to say they can beat you when the race hasn’t even been run yet. Your child expects wholehearted belief in them, and yourself, and nothing else will do. Kids should be aware that coming from an alternative family unit requires a backbone, not a label.
Our children need to know that both parents love them with all their heart. If they ask, tell them. If they don’t ask, tell them.
Going through separation and divorce is a daunting enough prospect for adults, let alone children. At times, you will just find it hard enough going through the paces of day to day life. Try not to react to your children, be an active partner in making it through the tough times together. The results of our actions are often far beyond what we ever anticipate and far beyond what we ever intend.
This is also a time of crisis in our kid’s lives. Make time for quiet reflection and calm discussion between family members. Being comfortable in silence around each other is an essential element for family harmony. This can be a rare occurrence in most households, but take the time each day to turn off the TV, computer and video games and sit in a comfortable, quiet part of your house to talk about what each of you have experienced that day or read aloud from an inspirational book. Tend and treasure this time with your children and show them how to open their hearts and minds to true communication.
A grain of experience is worth a ton of theory. It is a very easy thing for the people who care about you to speak complacently about your troubles, to advise you to bear them patiently, not to complain and to try and see the good in the situation.
What is much more satisfactory is to talk with someone who can say, “I have been there. I know all about it. I can give you all the information you want.” I have been through this. I have known sorrow. I speak from experience when I say “It is good for me that I have been divorced.”
One day, you will feel the same.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem