“Boys, I need to talk to you about something…”
How do you look into the innocent faces of 5, 3, and 1 year old little boys and tell them that their daddy isn’t coming home? How do you explain to them that for the rest of their childhood, they will be shuffled back and forth between houses? Weekends here. Weekends there. Mommy’s house. Daddy’s house. Two birthdays. Every other Thanksgiving. Split Christmases. Things would never again be the same for these little ones – and it was one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to face.
I never wanted this life for my boys. I was only a toddler when my own parents’ marriage ended, so all that I ever knew was going back and forth between two households. It was my life, and my parents did the best that they could – but it was something that I never wished for my boys to experience.
How do you help young children to adapt to a new life of suitcases, goodbyes, and being away from their mother for the first time in their little lives? Here are a few things that I have used with our boys, and I continue to do as they get older:
- Let them grieve…and allow them to grieve in their own ways. The family structure that they once had is gone, and the emotional ripple effect can manifest itself in so many different ways, and at different times over the years ahead. As parents, we need to be sensitive to how each child processes these new phases of life.
- Allow them to have access to the other parent. Phone calls, emails, and sending texts with photos of them being eaten by a T-Rex – this helps the children to feel connected to the other parent even when they aren’t with them.
- Do not vent to them about the other parent. This isn’t something that their little shoulders were meant to hold. Have a girlfriend on speed-dial who is willing to listen to you unload your burdens, cry with you, and prop you up with her love. I couldn’t have survived this experience without the loving care that my family and friends showed – and still continue to give me! You know who you are. *eternally grateful hugs*
- Give them a calendar, and label the days where they go to visit the other parent. Some days they might not know whether they are coming or going. Some days YOU might not know either. This is a very easy way for kids to visualize and connect with their schedule for the week.
- Place a photo of the other parent in their room where they can look at it whenever they want.
- Pack a photo of yourself in their weekend bag, that they can look at whenever they need to see you.
- Read The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn to them. This is the most touching story of a mommy raccoon who sends kisses with her baby as he leaves her side for the first time. Keep tissues handy when reading this sweet book. It’s also perfect for getting ready to go to school, daycare, a sleepover, or any other scenario where your little one might be struggling with being away from home.
- Make a Build-a-Bear to send with them on their nights away from home. I recorded a special message for each of my boys, and they can play it anytime they need to hear me say that I love them to infinity and beyond. Four years later, and they are still going strong!
- Be a good listener, and always work to keep the lines of communication open. They may want to tell you about all of the cool things that they did at the other parent’s house. They might need to tell you about something concerning that happened while they were away. They may need to cry, ask their questions over and over again, and need you to wrap your arms around them – reassuring them of how much you love them.
- Pray with them before they leave – and for them while they are gone. The pain of watching the little ones who hold your heart drive away – where you can’t be with them or shield them – is one of the most excruciating feelings that a mother can ever experience. You feel so helpless, but all that you can do is to let them know that you’ll be praying for them, that you will miss them every second that they are gone, and that you’ll be waiting with open arms when they come home.
Those are some of the ways over the years that I have tried to help ease our boys into this life. I would love to hear from you – What are some other ways that parents such as myself can use to help children through the emotional and difficult times that come from being in a family with divorce? Please feel free to leave suggestions here – this may lead to another post where we can share other useful ideas! As always, thank you so much for coming to spend a little time in my corner of the world today. I can’t even begin to express how much the support that I have felt has meant to me!
*The first and third photos are courtesy of my good friend and rock – Joanne Funk
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