Q. My eight-year-old son is constantly asking if his dad and I are going to go back together. Every time he comes home from his dad’s he asks, “Mommy, when are we going to move back in with Daddy?” I finally sat down with him and told him that I will always love his father because he gave me him, but we are not going to go back together. That didn’t seem to appease him, and he cried himself to sleep that night. What did I do wrong? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. All kids respond differently to their parents splitting up. Some take it in their stride, some are forever damaged, but just about all the kids I have worked with have harbored a secret wish that their parents will reconcile at some point. Take that secret wish and combine it with an eight-year-old’s understanding of adult relationships and you can have one very confused little kid.
I can only speculate how your son is feeling, but I ask you to consider the following…
Most people, children and adults alike, equate the word “love” with longevity. When you told your son you will always love Daddy, in that second he thought he got his wish, only to be let down in the next breath when you told him you’re not getting back together. Then add in “he gave me you” and in your son’s little brain he may have thought that you and daddy are no longer together because of him. Is that what you said? No, but it’s not uncommon for children of divorce to blame themselves for their parents’ break-up.
“Maybe if I was a better kid,” or “If I would have gotten better grades,” or “If I did my homework each night without a fight,” or “If I had kept my room clean,” or “If I didn’t fight with my sister,” my parents wouldn’t have argued all the time and they would be together right now. It’s all because of me—and now you have one very depressed little boy not understanding the world around him.
So, what do you do? In the future, rather than use the word, “love” when explaining your relationship with his father, consider using the words, “care about.” Saying something like, “Honey, I will always care about your dad,” reinforces the feelings you want your son to understand, but after that phrase, spend the majority of the conversation reinforcing how much you and dad love him. Make sure he understands that will never change, whether you and dad live under the same roof or not.
It’s also important to make sure you and dad are on the same page when discussing your break-up. It can be very confusing if dad is saying something different than what you’re saying—or he’s telling your son things that imply there might be a reconciliation.
Finally, don’t be surprised if you must explain the same things to your son over and over again. He may tell you he understands now when he really doesn’t, and as he gets a little older, require the same explanation as you have already given him in the past. Have patience. Put your child first. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.