A mom and a dad gathered their four children around the living room for a family meeting. The dad swallowed hard, dreading the announcement he and his spouse were preparing to make to the children. The couple’s 14-year marriage was about to conclude as they would now tell the children that they were getting a divorce.
How many of us have faced a similar conversation with our kids with utter dread?
Will they cry?
Will they be angry?
Will they be surprised?
What will lie ahead as we try to pick up the pieces and maintain the most “normal” childhood possible?
Will the kids smile and shriek with delight?
That last question is certainly not what almost any of us would expect to be our children’s reaction upon finding out that mom and dad will no longer be together and that massive changes are about to impose themselves on their family!
Joy was precisely the reaction of the children in the scenario described above. How is this possible? How could a child ever consider mom and dad’s divorce to be an occasion to celebrate?
The mother of these children made the big announcement on this unlucky day. Two of the four children likely had very little comprehension of what a “divorce” was. Mommy and Daddy are getting a divorce? Is that a new kind of car? Something we sleep on? A pet?
The older children knew what a divorce was, but before they had a chance to react to the news, their mom excitedly explained that because mom and dad were no longer going to live together, the kids could now have TWO birthdays and TWO Christmases – yay!
In a child’s mind, the “Noah’s Ark Effect” of duplicate celebrations and gifts may seem like the ultimate jackpot of fortune. Perhaps we could argue that, in light of such a tragic event, that the promise of double parties, visits from Santa Claus, and the possibility of parents trying to one up each other to deliver the best holiday might seem like reasonable consolation for the destruction of his or her family. Maybe two birthday parties ease the sting, ever so slightly, of not getting to see Mommy and Daddy every night…
I have to wonder how ethical it is to pull a bait and switch on children to mislead them into thinking divorce is a magical lottery every kid should only hope to win? When sold as the party and gift bonanza, what kid wouldn’t sign up for one? Is it deceptive to let a child think a divorce is a good thing without also informing them that it will also mean frustrating schedules, new parental figures in their life, possibly moving or a new school, and never again celebrating a holiday with everyone around the dinner table?
In this particular story, the oldest two children were actually relieved that their parents decided to divorce because they understood what it meant and were tired of living with their parent’s constant fights and drama. If asked today, both would conclude that divorce represented a change for the better, but that it has been hard. Their parents still have conflict, though not as much. They are shuffled back and forth between two homes a week at-a-time. The environment and expectations in both homes is vastly different, and they struggle with the inconsistency.
“Two holidays” may result in two birthday cakes and celebrations because each parent wants to celebrate the occasion – just not with each other. “Two holidays” means that partway through Christmas they have to put down the newly-opened toys to go over to the other parent’s home. Yes, double presents. Yes, double complication.
Divorce needs to be explained honestly and sincerely to children at the level they can understand. They need to understand that both parents will try their best to create a new life that fulfills all of the child’s needs (and wants) to the best of their ability. They need to understand that it will be hard for everyone to get used to and it may seem very chaotic and sad for a while. They need to understand that there will be trade-offs and compromises.
“Two holidays” means no longer having two parents in one home.
“Two holidays” may be one of the few perks a child can expect from divorce. Part of me understands that a few parents try to sell divorce with the promise of “double” to soften the terrible blow and help their children find something positive to hold onto during the powerful storm about to descend upon their life.
I want nothing more than to give my children the biggest hug I can right now as I write this because I know they never asked for a divorce in their lives, and they have been troopers to put up with all of the changes their father and I threw at them. Quite honestly, they deserve two holidays to reward them for their positive attitudes in spite of the loss and chaos they have endured!
What I would not do, however, is insult their intelligence or, in a way, trick them into thinking a divorce is a blessing. In ways it has been a good thing in our lives. We have less conflict in our lives; but, I still hope for them to grow up believing that a marriage is something sacred and worth fighting for; therefore, not like a game show that one might gamble on and try to win parting gifts from.
What happens once the kids realize what a divorce really means and they recall the sales pitch offered that made their new life sound like a festival of unicorns and rainbows? Will they feel cheated, deceived, or disrespected that their mom and dad couldn’t be more upfront about what to expect from this new chapter? Will they feel like they just bought a used car from the slimiest salesman in town or got a realistic, yet sensitive, portrayal of what is yet to come?
The choice is up to each parent as to how they want to explain divorce and ease the transition. Just consider what it is you are selling and why it is that divorce needs to be served up in a pretty package to make it more appealing?
Believe me when I say that the most important thing your children need to hear (and feel) in this moment is that they are loved more than they can imagine, they did nothing wrong, and that both parents will work together as much as possible to keep their life happy!