You develop a pattern, you start to get adjusted to this single parent life, and you think you are doing pretty well. Then that sweet little face (or sweet older face) looks up at you and asks, “Was it my fault?” [If you are a single parent due to death, this situation is a bit different and we will discuss that in the next article.]
You know that it isn’t the fault of your child. People fall out of love, circumstances change, he/she had an affair, it was an abusive relationship – there are a million realities. And your child doesn’t need all that information, but they do need to know that THEY are NOT the ones to blame.
So that is what you tell them. And they listen, and they ask, “So then, why?” Children aren’t quite as oblivious as we like to think. They hear the arguments, they see mom or dad with the other man or woman, they feel the tension, they know…something isn’t right. Their home, their life, is being turned upside down and they have no control over the situation. If they can find fault within themselves, then they can do something to make it right again. Hence, “Was it my fault?” But when you tell them it wasn’t, you need to be prepared to explain to them what did happen without blaming the other parent, however hard that may be. The last thing that child needs is to have his world further demolished by the destruction of not only his family, but of his individual parents.
There are a few rules that you need to remember when you talk to your child.
1. Be honest.
2. Don’t “bad mouth” the other parent.
3. Answer the question asked.
4. Listen to what your child says.
Yeah, trust me, I know that is it hard to obey some of these rules without breaking others. But it can be done. The reason your family is no longer together is not the fault of that child and they don’t need to be brought into it, even in the telling. If there is a major character flaw in the other parent, the child will find out on his or her own. And you will need to be there for them when they do. But they won’t come to you if you have already bad-mouthed the other parent and the child believes all he will hear is “I told you so.”
What do you say? Keep it simple. “While mom and dad love you very much, they found that it wasn’t good for either of them to live together any longer. In the long run, it wouldn’t have been good for you, either, because if we were miserable, you would be, too.” How much do you expand? That depends totally upon the age of the child and the questions that they ask. As long as you keep the four rules above in mind, then answer the questions asked and no more. They will ask what they need to know when they need to know it. And, sometimes it isn’t your place to answer. If they ask questions like, “Does mom/dad love someone else?” refer them to the other parent. They can best answer that question, not you.
Most importantly, keep the communication lines open. Communication is key to every good relationship – especially between parent and child.