It's important to me that I respect my son enough to not pull the typical "You'll understand when you're older" on the topic of my divorce. At the same time, he's not stupid. He knows we split up for a reason and he has a right to know about those reasons. Any tips for explaining the reasons for the split honestly without trashing his dad?
Dr. Scott Haltzman responds:
The answer to your question depends, in part, on how old your son is and, in part, on what you mean by "the reasons." If your son is not yet school age, then the simpler the explanation the better. As a child ages, he can understand more of the world. As a teen, he begins to understand more about relationships, and more about his own role as a man in society. If that's the case, he deserves a more complete picture of the cause for the divorce.
I'm not sure what you mean when you say your son has a "right to know." There are many things that your children have a right to know that you can choose not tell them — how much money you have in the bank is one example. As a parent, it's your decision whether or not you share information. If the reason you split is because your ex is involved in something that is public knowledge (arraigned on embezzlement charges, in prison for domestic violence, living with another woman, got a sex change operation, and the like) then your son is sure to find out, and, if his dad doesn't tell him, then you might have to. But if your husband's problems are more private, then your son doesn't need to learn the details from you.
You may wish to shout out to the world all the bad things that your ex-husband has done, but to your son, a simple "Your father and I had a lot of private issues that affected our relationship. We tried to sort them out, but we weren't able to. So we thought it was better to move apart," will do. That reinforces the privacy of the relationship, but also tells your son that the decision wasn't taken lightly. As for the terrible things that your husband did, your son only has to find these things out on a "need to know" basis.
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