Client: “We told our teenager on Monday that we are separating. I am uncertain how to have read the expression on her face…maybe slight shock, or disbelief. We have had so many years of conflict, it’s hard to believe she was surprised! This has really unseated me…we went shopping on Tuesday and had a nice day, really some great moments, bopping around looking for cool stuff. But there was a pallor that was present all day.
“I want to be able to tell her why this happened, so she understands, but I don’t want to play the blame game. I can’t be completely honest, and so I think she is confused…and I am getting so stressed.
‘I don’t feel grounded when [my ex] is around, and I am sad and angry. Sad about all the losses, and also doing this to her when she is getting ready to go to college. Everyone is putting on their happy face but this is confusing.
My response: It’s always amazing to find out how much kids can be in their own heads, and not notice things going on around them. We think they know/sense what is going on between the adults – but they often do not. Being a teen especially, is an experience full of compelling drama – much more interesting than parents are!
- let her ask the questions – don’t bring it up nor volunteer information, other than what and as she asks you for it/about it.
- remember that – psychologically/unconsciously – children feel that they are half their mother and half their father, so that if someone says ‘your dad is lazy,’ they hear it as “half of me is lazy.” That can help to guide you to avoid the blame-game.
- remind her that she didn’t do anything to cause this.
In my experience, children ALWAYS know the truth of their parents’ divorce. She knows both of you, inside and out, and over the next 20 years she will ask more questions. There is time.
The challenge will be finding that balance between feeling you are being your authentic self – and protecting her. She doesn’t need (nor want) details. If you’re feeling sad – you’re allowed to tell her that, too. It’s the end of a long relationship, and it’s very normal to have mixed and complicated feelings. For all of you. But complain to your friends and your therapist – not to her.