Q. My boyfriend has a ten-year-old daughter who I am quite close to. He has made it very clear to her that we are together and that we love each other very much, but a few days ago while we were doing something in the kitchen, she told me in no uncertain terms that she wants her parents to get back together. My boyfriend and his ex often spend time alone with their child—going to the movies, sometimes dinner. I’m wondering if this is confusing her? I have no idea how to approach this with him. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. It’s quite common for children to wish their parents would get back together after a break-up. So, I don’t think you can blame your bonusdaughter’s desire for reconciliation on the fact that her parents occasionally spend time together. My own bonusdaughter asked me the same thing when she was nine years old. I had been married to her father for two years and we were cuddling while watching TV at the time. Her parents were at odds and never spent time together. So, it only goes to show you that most kids entertain the notion that maybe mom and dad will get back together some day. (Of course, parents must be mindful not to act too familiar after a break-up or they will give their children a false sense of hope.)
How you answer that question can ease her pain or make it worse. So, let’s look at a few possibilities of what to consider and what to say in response.
First, before you respond, I hope you’ve brainstormed with her parents, and everyone is on the same page with an answer. That way, no matter who she asks, she will get an answer that includes similar information.
Second, don’t be appalled by the question. It’s not said to hurt you–and it may not have anything to do with how she feels about you or your place as her dad’s chosen partner. I knew my bonusdaughter loved me. I never questioned it for a second, yet there she was cuddling up next to me wondering out loud, “Janna, do you think my mom and dad will ever get back together?”
Just remember, the question was not asked about you. It’s the child wondering about her own life. When you answer, make sure you take that into consideration, not your own feelings.
Start by explaining that it’s okay that she asked and that it’s normal to wonder about those things. Reinforce that even though her parents are no longer living together they will always love her and be there for her—and you will, too. Note how many people love and care for her and that she can ask questions like that any time she wants.
Make sure you discuss the conversation with her parents so that they can follow-up.
Finally, I try to stay away from talking about how the parents feel about each other. That’s for them to volunteer, however when parents say things like, “I will always love your mother, we just can’t be together,” it can be very confusing to a child. The word, “love” implies longevity. And, more importantly, if you stopped loving mommy, you might stop loving me. I always use the words, “care about.” It seems to comfort rather than raise more questions. 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.