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What to say when your child asks why Mommy and Daddy don't live in the same home

Posted May 25

Your child is now old enough to start asking all their “how come” questions. And one of those questions may not have a simple answer.

Maybe it started at school, when all of your child’s classmates drew their family as one unit, and your child wasn’t so sure how to draw theirs out. Perhaps your child is starting to understand that their family is a little different—that many other other families live in one home instead of two.

So after school, they ask that gut-wrenching question, the one you’ve been dreading since the divorce: “Why don’t Mommy and Daddy live in the same house?”

Witnessing your child come to terms with the fact that their family is different than others can be painful, but that’s precisely why divorce and differences should be addressed.

Is there one right way to discuss divorce with children? Of course not. But here are a few tips to make the discussion easier:

"Every family is different"

Explain to your child that no two families are alike. Each family has a different amount of children. You can say,“Your friend Blake has four brothers and sisters, and you have one sister.” Also explain that moms and dads all have different jobs and responsibilities by saying, “Blake’s mommy works in an office, your mommy is a teacher.”

As your child comes to understand this concept, you can include divorce by saying, “Blake’s mommy and daddy are married and live together. Your mommy and daddy are divorced and live in different homes.”

Understanding this concept will help your child to understand that it’s OK if your family is different from their friend's, because no family is the same.

"Mommy and Daddy both love you very much"

One of the most important conversations to have with your child as you explain divorce is to ensure your child knows it's not their fault. Young children tend to blame themselves for their parents’ separation, and that guilt can lead to a variety of psychological problems in the future. Explain that you and your ex-spouse's situation in the most gentle way possible. Ensure your child that they were never one of the problems between you and your ex, and it is not their fault you separated.

They may not understand your divorce right off the bat, but they will know that they are loved and cared for.

"I miss you when you’re not with me"

This ensures your child that the divorce was not their fault. They will understand that you don’t enjoy sending them to their other parent’s home because you love spending time with them.

Be sure to avoid making anything a competition between you and your ex-spouse. Don’t ever criticize your ex with your child around, and don’t try to be the "favorite parent." This will confuse your child and create conflicts that can last a lifetime.

"Having two homes equals double the fun"

Make having two homes exciting for your child. Having two homes equals two of everything—two beds, two toy rooms and even two Christmases! Your child is already starting to grasp the concept that their family is different, so help them embrace their uniqueness and make them feel special.

When your child asks difficult questions, don’t sweep them under the rug. Take time to give them the honest, full answer, and be sure your child understands what you are telling them.

Teaching your child about divorce is never an easy concept, but it can be made easier when it's explained gently and truthfully. How have you addressed divorce with your children in the past? Share in the comments below!

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