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"You Keep On Playing Those Mind Games"...From Depression to Hope - Telling My Son About the Divorce
Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, has been facilitating relationship seminars and workshops for more than fifteen years. As a Certified Corporate Trainer and professional speaker, she now focuses her attention on coaching troubled families on how to create a "child-centered divorce." For her free ezine, articles and other valuable resources on this subject visit http://www.childcentereddivorce.com/.
© Rosalind Sedacca 2008 All rights reserved.
Telling My Son About the Divorce
I've faced many difficult moments in my life. But preparing to tell my son that I will be divorcing his father was absolutely one of the worst. Thinking about breaking the news filled me with dread, gut-wrenching fear, and incredible guilt. My son, after all, was a sweet, innocent soul who loved both his father and mother. He didn't deserve this.
I struggled with the anxiety for weeks. When should I tell him? How? Should we tell him together? And most frightening of all, WHAT SHOULD WE SAY?
How do you explain to your child that the life he has known is about to be disrupted - changed - forever?
How do you explain that none of this is his fault?
How do you reassure him that life will go on, that he will be safe and loved, even after his parents divorce?
And, even more intimidating, how do you prepare him for all the unknowns ahead when you're not sure yourself how it will all turn out?
I needed a way of conveying all that I wanted to say to him at a level of understanding that he could grasp.
My son was eleven at the time. He was still a child, yet old enough to feel the tension in our home that had been escalating for several years. He heard the irritation in our voices when his father and I spoke. He heard the arguments that flared up suddenly in the midst of routine conversations and the deafening silence when we were engulfed in our frustration and anger.
Quietly my son was experiencing it all and, not surprisingly, began to show signs of stress. Sometimes it came in the form of headaches. Other times his tears revealed his pain at hearing what he heard and being helpless to stop it. Often he acted out, revealing his escalating temper as he filled up with rage about controlling a situation that was certainly beyond his control!
The most frustrating part of all is that my husband and I knew better than to fight in front of our son, allowing him to be caught up in our difficulties. But as our unhappiness grew over time, we lost touch with what we knew and gave in to what we felt. It was a terrible mistake, one which I will always regret because the child I loved more than anyone in the universe, was paying the price.
I wrote a list of what was most important for me to tell my son about the divorce. Six points stood out as most essential:
THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
YOU ARE AND WILL ALWAYS REMAIN SAFE.
MOM AND DAD WILL ALWAYS BE YOUR PARENTS.
MOM AND DAD WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU.
THIS IS ABOUT CHANGE, NOT ABOUT BLAME.
THINGS WILL WORK OUT OKAY.
I knew this was vital information to get across. But I didn't know how to say it. How do I begin? How do I answer all his questions? How do I cope with the inevitable tears, anger and pain? And then what?
One night at 4 a.m., a thought came to me that resonated in a powerful way. I remembered that my son always enjoyed looking through family photo albums, primarily because they were filled with photos of him. He liked seeing his baby pictures and watching the changes as he grew. The albums were like a story book of his life. They kept his attention and opened the door to many relaxed family conversations.
What if I prepared a photo album for my son that told the story of our family in pictures and words? And what if it spanned from before he was born right up to the present, preparing him for the new changes ahead?
The storybook concept would give him something tangible he could hold on to and read again and again to help him grasp what was about to transpire. It would explain, in language he could understand, why this was happening including the six crucial points I knew I had to get across.
And, rather than rehearsing an awkward conversation, the storybook would give me a written script that was well thought through in advance.
When the book was completed I showed it to my husband. It was important that we both agreed about the message which was not controversial, judgmental or accusatory. It focused on areas of mutual agreement: the six crucial points that most every parent would want to get across.
While my husband was angry with me for initiating our divorce, he knew the point of our storybook was not to air our differences but to support our son. He agreed the book was well done.
One evening we sat down with my son and told him we wanted to show him a storybook about our family. He was immediately interested. As I read aloud, at times I stopped to reminisce about a memorable event or occasion. It felt good to laugh together as a family again, even if only briefly.
As I started reading about the changes in family -- the tension and sad times -- tears pooled up in my son's eyes. By the time I reached the end, he was weeping uncontrollably and clinging to us both.
Then came the inevitable response. "NO! You're not getting a divorce. I don't want you to. It's not fair." Together, as a family, we talked, cried, hugged, answered questions, re-read passages and consoled one another.
The deed was done. It was tough to go through. But having the book as an anchor to hold on to and re-read was helpful for us all. We talked about the impending divorce many more times in the following weeks -- and even after the divorce itself. Often we'd refer back to the book as a reminder that Mom and Dad will still love him forever and that everything will be okay.
The book also helped me and my husband to keep a perspective about our son. It reminded us that this was not about judgments and accusations. Life evolves. And beyond our differences, frustrations and disappointments, we were still both his Mom and Dad and always will be. Therefore we needed to treat each other with dignity and respect.
It has been more than a decade since I prepared that family storybook. I have since remarried and my son has embarked on an exciting career as a veterinarian. As a grown young man he is still very close to his father and me. When I approached him about sharing my family storybook idea with other parents facing divorce, he enthusiastically agreed it was a great idea.
I can't be more pleased or proud that my son wrote the introduction to my new book, How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children -- with Love! It contains fill-in-the-blank templates that parents can customize about their family. My approach to creating what I call a Child-Centered Divorce paid off for us all. It is the crowning achievement in my life.