The Family Project: Relatives’ divorce
Q. My sister and her husband are going through a separation and probably a divorce. My children, ages eight and five, keep asking questions like why their aunt comes to visit them alone. We keep telling them that Uncle Kevin is out of town, but eventually we will have to be honest with them. How do we explain divorce to children?
The panel stressed the importance of being honest with children when answering their questions, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go into great detail.
“The more you lie,” panelist Pam Wallace said, “the worse it is going to be in the long run.”
“Separation is not an easy thing to explain,” panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo observed. “You just need to be very sensitive in your approach.”
Panelist Denise Continenza suggested relating the situation to something the children understand or have experienced. She gave an example of what the parent could say: “Sometimes relationships and friendships don’t work out. You don’t play with some children anymore. And grownups do the same thing.”
Wallace added that the children likely have friends or classmates whose parents are divorced, and that could be part of the discussion. “The eight-year-old surely is aware of the situation,” Wallace continued. “He could simply be told that his aunt and Uncle Kevin aren’t getting along, and they think they will be happier living apart.”
Because eight and five are very different ages, panelist Erin Stalsitz recommended talking to each child separately. She also said it would be a good idea for the mother to talk to her sister, and let her know that the children were asking questions, so that the aunt doesn’t get blindsided. If the aunt can discuss the situation without becoming emotional, she might want to be part of the conversation.
“Make sure you answer the children’s questions at their levels,” Mercado-Arroyo said, adding, “Don’t give too much information or details, and make sure the kids understand what you’ve told them.”
The important thing, according to Continenza, is that the children feel secure.
She said the parent should tell them, “We are together as a family, and your aunt will always be a part of it. She will love you forever.”
As for the uncle, the panel agreed that the best answer if the children ask is “We’re not sure.” That’s when it might be good to ask the children how they feel about the uncle, and what they would like to see happen.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, educator and former school administrator; Denise Continenza, extension educator, Penn State Extension.; and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child. The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with questions you may have regarding a medical condition.