When my husband and I got divorced we sat down and talked about how we would tell our children and exactly what we would tell them. It’s now almost three years since that conversation and during that time, my son has occasionally wanted to talk about it. My guidance has always been to honestly answer the question that was asked and that’s pretty much the same philosophy as Debbie.
Debbie was married for about six years when she discovered her husband had been unfaithful with both men and women. Some months later, she learned that children were also involved. It wasn’t until after their divorce that she learned he’d been convicted as a sex offender – not an easy topic to talk to your child about and definitely not when the sex offender is his father. Here’s Debbie:
[contemplate1] I work in pediatric oncology, so I’m used to working with dying children, touchy subjects, obviously. I know how to talk about that stuff and those were definitely skills that came in handy. What I learned from my job was that you never tell a child something that you have to take back later.
So I made a commitment that I was going to be honest with my son. I might omit things that he wasn’t ready for yet, but I never lied. I would never say something that I had to take back because that eventually comes back to haunt you and your kid doesn’t trust you anymore.
Initially, I told him,
“Your daddy has a lot of problems and it’s not safe for him to be with us.”
I just left it at that. Then I would take his lead and as he would ask questions, I would answer. Every once in a while I would take the lead and say,
“I was thinking about this the other day …..” or maybe with Father’s Day coming up I’d ask him if there was anything he wanted to talk about. Sometimes he’d say yes and we’d talk about something and other times he didn’t have any questions. Typical kid stuff.
As he got older, the questions progressed:
“Why can my dad not see me?”
“What did he do?”
I’m like, ‘oh, crap! Now what do I say?’ So I said,
“This is really an adult thing and I’ll tell you when you’re older, but he did things to people that weren’t OK and it’s not safe.”
I tried to keep it as simple as possible. I remember one time he said,
“Did he shoot anybody,” and I said,
“No. You know when we go to the doctor and we talk about private parts and we talk about how no one can touch you there other than your mommy and your doctor and someone who’s changing your underwear. Your dad touched people without their permission and that’s not OK. So it made him not safe.”
His first reaction was, “EW!” Then it just went on from there. That’s pretty much the point we’re at now. He doesn’t remember those early conservations. Probably six months ago he asked me again what his father had done and I said,
“He touched people inappropriately and he was very sick. He made poor choices and he didn’t get help when he needed help.”
I really put a lot of responsibility on his dad because I think it’s important for him to know that his dad didn’t try to get better. However, I also stressed that his dad was sick and although it is hard for me, I tell him that his dad loved him. I have to believe that. I have to. He certainly didn’t act like it but I have to believe that at some level, his dad loved him.
These are hard situations to handle – Vivianne left an abusive marriage and tried to shield her children from the harshness of a father who didn’t want to see them. April had to deal with her ex’s drug addiction and how much to tell her children. I think they’ve all done excellent jobs, parenting with the best interests of their children at heart … we all know that we don’t have to tell our children everything about our ex’s, overtime they start to see the issues for themselves.