31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Delicate Questions Require Delicate, But Honest, Answers

Single With Children: Avoid being hurtful when answering the big 'Why?'

Susie Parker
Publication Date: 04/27/05

If you are a divorced parent, chances are a tough question is looming in your future.

It's a question no one looks forward to, but eventually is going to pop up. And no matter how ready you may think you are to handle it, there's still a very good chance it might blindside you.

"Why did you and (insert Mom/Dad) get a divorce?"

Talk about a loaded question! Taking the Fifth Amendment may placate a judge and jury, but it doesn't work if the interrogator has your eyes and your spouse's nose and smile.

You might be given a little time to prepare because it's usually one of those "lead up to" questions. Depending on the child's age, the query may come in different forms, such as "Why don't you and Daddy live together anymore?", "Why don't you love Mommy?", or "Why did Dad move out?"

The only thing more difficult than pondering the question is giving serious consideration to your answer. Obviously, the child's age and maturity level must be considered. The answer should be delivered with sensitivity, consideration and as much gentle honesty as possible.

In particularly nasty divorces, this might seem like a rich opportunity for character assassination. As tempting as it may be to get your side of the story out, take a deep breath and collect your thoughts. Before you open your mouth, remember you are not simply addressing the faults of your former spouse. You also are preparing to answer an important question posed by someone you love with all your heart.

It's one thing to dredge up every horrible, unkind action your ex-wife/husband committed to your friends, parents, siblings, cable guy, meter reader and anyone else who is cornered and has no choice but to listen. It's something else entirely to paint a negative, biased and one-sided portrait of someone who is the mother or father of that child.

Indulging in the chance to get everything off your chest serves no purpose and will lead to unnecessary hurt feelings and confusion in the mind of your child.

And those bullets used in character assassination attempts more often than not have a nasty way of ricocheting. Great divides are born of this.

It may take months or even years, but eventually something more along the lines of the truth will eventually surface and, if you have depicted your former spouse in a particularly unflattering light, it's important to remember you might not look so glowing and pristine under that same harsh, flaw-revealing light.

Nothing about a divorce is easy. Hearts are bruised, and if kids are involved, the collateral damage can be devastating. While kids deserve an honest answer to the question of "what really happened?" the court proceedings are over.

Nothing is gained by making your child's other parent into someone whose faults and transgressions are so disreputable you might next be explaining what you were thinking to marry such a monster in the first place.

When the question of why the marriage broke up is posed, remember the very same thing probably will be asked of that person you used to be married to. Remember you are discussing a sensitive topic. Full disclosure may be required in a court deposition, but it's not essential OR appropriate when discussing the character of a child's mother or father.

When you sit down and answer your child's question, incorporate the Golden Rule and answer it in a way you hope your former spouse will, when his/her turn comes around.

Even if that other person takes the low road and gives an unfair, unflattering account of why things went wrong, stay on that high road.

The truth may seem like it's taking forever to come out, but it will arrive eventually and, just as we're reminded, the truth really will set you free.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at SusieWrites@gmail.com, write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166 or visit her diary at www.susiewrites.blogspot.com.

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