Understand that it will take time for your children to come to grips with the idea that the family is changing. Accepting divorce is a process. Gradually different questions, issues and thoughts about the divorce will come up for your children and as they do, it’s only natural for them to question why.
Asking “why?” also serves as a way for children to:
- Make sense of what has happened.
- Gradually move closer to accepting divorce as a reality.
- Affirm that this is a permanent decision that will not change.
- Resolve feelings of guilt or responsibility for what has happened between Mom and Dad.
On the flip side revisiting the issue of “why?” offers parents the opportunity to:
- Reassure children that the love you have for them will never end.
- Remind them that divorce is an adult problem that they can’t fix or change.
- Let children know it’s okay to talk about what has happened and ask questions.
It’s important to understand that when children ask why repeatedly there may be another agenda lurking in the shadows. Resist the temptation to provide them with more information and instead opt to dig a little deeper. When your child raises the issue consider making a statement like, “It must be very hard to understand how things could change so much between two people” or “Sometimes when a divorce happens kids wonder if Mom and Dad could stop loving each other, what would it take for them to stop loving me. Have you ever worried about that?” By posing a few open-ended questions you may discover other issues that have been weighing on your child’s mind.
Of course, older children will rarely let you off the hook easily. For this age group you will probably never be able to completely satisfy their questions about why things didn’t work out. For younger children the desire to understand “why” is often fueled by the hope that if they understand the problem then perhaps they can fix it. With older children issues surrounding the fate of their future relationships may be hanging in the balance. More to the point, if things didn’t work out for Mom and Dad, how will they ever work out for me? Teens also tend to be overly judgmental and view adult behavior with a critical eye. Be aware that your teen may have a strong desire to place blame and lash out at the parent they feel is responsible for messing up their lives.
Remember there are many things that happen when a marriage breaks down that children are not equipped to understand. When parents try to completely satisfy their children need to know they frequently end up giving kids more information than necessary or overexposing them to adult issues. Instead of children feeling less anxious they tend to become more worried, unsure and distressed.. Even older children who have the intellectual ability to make sense of it all usually aren’t prepared to emotionally manage issues between Mom and Dad.