Divorce is something that happens between two adults, not unlike marriage. It is the formal dissolution of a relationship that, for whatever reason, did not work out. It is not, however, permission to talk negatively about your children’s other parent or their families, as the case may be.
The death of a child puts enormous strain on a marriage; when our teenage daughter passed away in 2004, it was the final blow to my and my husband’s tenuous relationship. We had been together for about twenty-four years at that point and, like most relationships, we had weathered a few storms. The details of those storms were only for us to know, not our children. It was not their fault that the relationship was ending; it was a series of circumstances.
When we decided the relationship was done, I had no idea how to talk to my teens: what to say, what not to say. So, initially, I said nothing. The boys were 13 and 15, and our family was dysfunctional. As for me, I was attempting to recover from my accident injuries and the death of our child. Overall, it was not a great place to be.
I knew that at some point I would have to have the conversation with my sons about what happened and why, after all those years, we divorced. So I began to research and read everything I could get my hands on. Then, when the questions came, I was ready. I knew that they did not need details; those would remain private. I told them the truth: we fell out of love with each other, but truly loved both of them.
I firmly believe that it is part of my job as a mother to be a positive role model for my boys while allowing them to form their own opinion of others. I have never told my sons mean-spirited things about my ex-husband or his family. After all, these are still people in their lives. So I continue to speak positively, and if I have nothing nice to say, I remain silent.
One of the most important conversations I have had with my boys was when I told them that I do not hate their father. He gave me the two of them, along with some amazing memories from our marriage. For that, I will always be grateful. It is important for my sons to know that they do not have to choose a parent to align with; this is not a war, it is life.
One thing I wish I had done better was to help them navigate the new relationship between me and their dad after the divorce. Instead, they tried to create the relationship on their own. It was only years later that I realized that they did not have the skills to do this. So after years of no contact with my ex, I tapped out a text message to him and talked to him about his sons. The look of surprise on both my boys’ faces made it all worthwhile. They knew then that I would support their relationship with their father — and that I would do anything I could to strengthen it.
Even though my sons are both in their twenties now, they know I am always available to offer guidance in any situation (even if it involves their dad), and that is a great feeling!