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How much should a parent divulge about reasons for divorce?

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Posted: Friday, February 28, 2014 1:59 pm

Dear Straight Talk: I have recently separated from my husband. Our 15-year-old son keeps pushing me for why I want the divorce, but when I try to explain, he accuses me of bashing his dad and shuts me off. This keeps happening and is causing frustration between us. His father was emotionally abusive to me and had multiple affairs that I’m pretty sure my son doesn’t know about. How much do kids really want to hear? And what is best? Please help. — Divorced Mom

Moriah, 17, Rutland, Vt.: Almost all of my friends’ parents have separated and each friend wanted different amounts of information. Some preferred to be completely in the dark while others needed all the information to feel settled. All knew more than their parents realized and were frustrated that their parents were hiding stuff — or worse, lying. Since your son keeps grilling you, he’s the type who needs more of the story to make sense of things. Make sure the truth is told in an unbiased way, allowing for his own interpretation. Or let him know there are things you don’t want to share. This is much better than omitting something without saying you’re omitting it.

Omari, 20, Washington, D.C.: I honestly feel for you. I also respect you for leaving because some people stick it out at too large a cost. Your ex should be the one to admit his infidelity to his son. However, for the sake of your relationship, you may have to tell him if your ex will not. If one of my parents was unfaithful, I would definitely want to know.

Justin, 26, Redding: “Why” can be the most pointless question in the English language. Knowing why doesn’t change anything — but it can provide fodder for blame. Divorce happens for a plethora of reasons, all potentially “someone’s fault.” It’s important that you put your child’s welfare first. Having him resent one of his parents isn’t productive.

Brandon, 21, Mapleton, Maine: Kids should only be told what they can comprehend at their age. You don’t explain infidelity to a middle-school kid, but it’s neither slanderous or wrong to tell older teens the true reason for a divorce. However, if they don’t ask, don’t volunteer it. You may not be comfortable answering questions immediately, but don’t wait too long. My dad finally opened up to me 12 years after their divorce! It felt awkward and unnecessary, since I was long over it. While it was comforting to know that I wasn’t a primary cause, hearing that when the divorce happened would have been better. Divorce bias, especially early on, is common for kids to fall into. As long as the “out” parent stays involved in the child’s life (don’t give up on them!) they’ll grow out of it and realize that playing favorites or holding grudges doesn’t get them anywhere.

Dear Divorced: I hope the panel was helpful. Your son is old enough and clearly needs to balance his topsy-turvy world with a logical explanation — one that doesn’t blame. How to do that? Keep all your communication about you. Leave his dad out of it. No child wants to hear their parent dissed. Try something like this: “I’m divorcing because I need a monogamous partner. I also need someone who treats me kindly. I’m so sorry.” Then stop there! If he wants details about the infidelity, refuse, and say, “What’s more important is that we all create a new happiness.” (He can decide on his own to ask his dad.) You may think it’s a no-brainer, but please add, “Not a speck of this is your fault — we both treasure you.” — Lauren

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