As a parent I’ve tried to shield my children over the years from the issues that keep me awake at night. I tried not to show my deep and growing discomfort with my marriage; I’ve tried not show it when I’ve been worried about money; and I’ve tried not to show it when my ex’s behavior is bothering me. I imagine other parents do the same. So when I was interviewing Ashley about her parents divorce, I had to wonder if some of the changes in circumstances, like having to move to a different school, were the realities of divorce, of having less money and whether Ashley realized that at the time. Here’s Ashley:
My father had achieved a level of success in business and because of that we were living at a higher level than my mom could afford on her own. He was a much better negotiator and she initiated the divorce even though, in a sense he never really wanted to be in the marriage. She didn’t ask as much as maybe some other person would have. And so we needed to move to a town that was more reasonably priced.
My siblings and I obviously dealt with that but she had a lot more to deal with. She ended up having to work three jobs so she didn’t have an easy life by any means in those years. And I had no concept at the time because in those things, she wasn’t telling me. She wasn’t really explaining to me how difficult things were for her, which I give her credit for.
Even if she had shared the difficulties I don’t know if I would have been able to really comprehend that. I couldn’t really appreciate that. I don’t know. Maybe she did try to explain it to me and I just didn’t appreciate her circumstances, maybe.
The financial challenges are totally different than the emotional challenges and I don’t know that she didn’t attempt to explain them. Who knows, maybe she did and as good a kid as I thought I was, maybe I was nasty and said something like, “Well, then you shouldn’t have left dad.” That wouldn’t have been true because I felt they should have never gotten married so, it wasn’t like I wanted them to get back together. I don’t know if I would have ever said that per se, but I think that would have been more in mind than the understanding of money and the struggles of her being a single mom that I have now.
The Divorce Coach Says
This seems like a no-win situation … you shield your children from the realities of divorce, because they don’t need or shouldn’t know all the details, and that makes it hard for your child to understand the hurdles or accept the changes in their circumstances. Yet, if you did give more information, your child may not have the maturity to understand and you may be risking your child’s relationship with either yourself or their other parent.
So there has to be a balance, like only age-appropriate information, as Debbie did in telling her son his father was a sex offender and avoiding bad-mouthing your ex and an acceptance that your child won’t necessarily like your decisions. Remember, your role is a parent, not a friend.
Fear of how your child will react to a decision isn’t a reason for avoiding that decision. One of the universal truths about divorce is that there is almost always less money and you have a responsibility to yourself and your kids to live within your means. If that means making decisions about where to live that necessitate your child changing schools, then it’s not a choice. Rather than avoid the decision, research online or brainstorm with friends what you can do to help your child with the transition and then when the time comes, listen to your child about his concerns.
Are you facing difficult decisions that you fear your child won’t understand? How are you helping your child accept some changes? How do you decide what to share and what to keep hidden?
Photo credit: jpmartineau