Be Honest With Your Children – Even When It Sucks

Baby Edited

We’ve all been there, it’s 3:00AM and the baby starts screaming.  He or she cares not that your alarm is going to go off in 3 hours and you are going to have to guzzle gallons of coffee to make it through your day.  Babies don’t care, they can’t care, because they lack the tools.  They lack empathy and they lack perspective.  They believe they are the only player….the only actor in everyone’s play (hell, I know some adults like that).  It takes years for children to realize that what they see, may not be what everyone else sees.  Years to go before they realize that everyone is the leading role in their own play.

Children operate under the “egocentric fallacy”.  Babies learn, “if I cry, they feed me”.  As they grow, this turns into, “if something bad happens, I must have caused it”.  As parents, it is our job to teach our children that they are not responsible for things that are beyond their control.  Further, children make things bigger than they actually are and they know more than you think they do.  This is a bad combination.  A white lie can turn disastrous in a child’s mind should it be left to fester.  They will believe that everything from divorce, to death, to mom’s crappy day at work was caused by them.

How can you help?  Be honest with your children, even when it sucks.  I’m not saying you need to explain things above their comprehension level.  You don’t have to explain infidelity or that their other parent was a terrible spouse.  A simple explanation of, “there are different types of love and the type you need for marriage just went away for us”.  If they get into specifics (usually from a parent who shares too much or from a conversation they overheard), just tell them that “those things happen when that love disappears.  People behave differently when they are not happy”.  It’s not an excuse, but it is a graceful way of not disclosing things that are either too old for them to understand, something that is simply none of their business, OR something that’s not true because someone is running his or her mouth.  This protects everyone.  It is often extended family that does the most gossiping and therefore, the most damage.

By the time people I knew played telephone, the version of why my ex and I split up was very freaking creative (and much more adventurous than I am), by the time it got back to me.  There were so many versions, I couldn’t keep track.  Kids hear these versions.  People are hurt, and they talk.  I promise the kids are listening.

We forget how much is going on in those little minds or how much they understand.  My girls are often processing something profound while I’m in the front seat craving chocolate, and thinking how I like the color yellow and kittens.

Just the other morning I come into the kitchen and said, “how are my two favorite people today?”  My oldest took on an astonished tone and asked, “what about daddy?”  I calmly explained that he is my friend and always will be, but my kids are my favorites and they have to be my priority.  She seemed satisfied with that answer, but let me tell you I wasn’t expecting to have that conversation at 6:30AM before my tea.  After this, why don’t you ask me where babies come from and what my net worth is?  

When I was a kid, my mom was super reserved and didn’t like talking about things that made her uncomfortable.  From telling me she didn’t know what tampons were (when asked while watching a commercial), to telling my sister that gay only meant happy when someone called her that in school.  Needless to say, she was not a huge source of information.  

Allow me to demonstrate:  I once went camping with my dad and his girlfriend.  I started my period for the first time and I thought I was dying.  I thought I was bleeding to death and since my mom had had a hysterectomy a few years prior, I assumed I had caught Ovarian Cancer, and was actually dying.  

Tumor

So, his girlfriend, (this nice lady who was effectively a stranger), had to explain to me what was happening and while in a campground bathroom, I had to figure out how to use feminine products….thanks for that.  I learned very quickly to go elsewhere for information than to ask my mother.  As a result, I heard plenty of colorful explanations for everything, much of which I cannot unknow.  Someone is going to teach your children.  Do not give away that opportunity.

I am always honest with my kids and have been from day one.  I don’t need to tell them adult versions but when my kids ask how you physically make a baby, I am honest and open with them.  Even when I’m uncomfortable, they deserve to know what’s going on.  I don’t have this kid:

Kindergarten Cop

because no one wants the weird kid (don’t lie, everyone loved Kindergarten Cop).  But still, they know the basics and therefore, they don’t run around asking other people.  So be honest with your kids, even when it sucks.

Contact And Loyalty Is A Privilege Not A Right

Loyalty edited

Fair warning: this is not a popular topic, especially among parents.  If you get ruffled or become insecure easily, stop reading now (and maybe this isn’t the best blog for you, either).

Blood is thicker than water.  Family is forever.  Forgive and forget.  Turn the other cheek.  Be the bigger person.  I could go on, but I won’t.  Instead, I call bullshit.  Having contact with another human being regardless of family connection, friendship, or history, is a privilege not a right.

This gets every parents’ panties in a bunch.  “But these are my children!”  “My children should love me unconditionally.”  “But this is my mother/father/sibling/long-lost Aunt.  I have to let certain things slide.”  I contend that this notion is false.  So many readers and clients tell me that they treated their spouse as if they would always be there only to be surprised one day when they had had enough.  Everyone has a breaking point.

I cannot tell you how many times I felt alone when thinking, “why is it always my job to be the bigger person?”  I have had so many come to me since saying exactly that.  Sometimes you get tired of being the bigger person and sometimes you run out of cheeks to turn (I mean, we only have 4 right?).

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.  ~ Victor Frankl

Your children will one day get this option.  Whether it is as final as severing contact or simply establishing boundaries (which if you raised a healthy adult, they should).  It would do every parent well to remember this.  Never assume that because you are a parent/spouse/sibling/extended family member/long time friend/beloved cousin twice removed, that you automatically gain access.  It may mean that they will put up with you longer, but it doesn’t give you immunity.  Unless you are a Czar, you shouldn’t assume that simply being born gives you a power position.  Positions and loyalty are earned.  Assuming that being a parent automatically makes your bad behavior untouchable is like assuming you’re a proper lady for giving a handjob with your pinky raised….you’re still giving a handjob and you’re not fooling anyone.

Do not misunderstand, I believe in family.  Family is by far the most important.  But family comes in many forms and sometimes you have to protect family from family, or yourself from family.

Only you can decide who gets to be in your life and who doesn’t.  You have a limited amount of time and energy to spend on this planet.  Only you choose how and with whom you spend it.  Further, only you decide the boundaries you put in place and the way you allow these people to treat you.  Remember that this is the case for everyone in your life.  

The People You Lose In Divorce – Spoiler Alert – It’s Not Just Your Spouse

calla-lilies

When people are deciding whether to end their relationship, they often focus on whether the impact of the divorce will impact them negatively or positively.  Whether the pros outweigh the cons.  Most importantly, whether they can live without their current spouse (of course you can, but how bad will it suck?).

What people forget is the collateral damage.  Of course the children are affected and if you are reading this, you are the type of parent that wants it to be as easy as possible on them.  What people don’t consider is that when you get divorced, it’s not simply who gets the couch and the fish, but who gets what friend and which family members are going to end their relationship with you.

So many of my readers email me and lament the friend that simply stops speaking to them.  They either choose sides or simply feel that your divorce makes them uncomfortable.  Women often treat other women poorly and no longer feel comfortable having them around their husbands (as if getting a divorce turns you into a dog in heat).  Some will stop responding to your invites because the fact that divorce hits home, and they worry that their relationship will end as well or maybe it should, and they are not ready to face that.

I learned this when my ex and I got divorced and I wrongly assumed that he had maintained friendships with people who had stopped speaking to me.  He was equally surprised as they were no longer interacting with him either.  We had simply both been dumped.  These people are not missed (real friends do not do this), but we were still surprised.

When dealing with family, you have to understand that your spouse’s family may very well stop speaking to you.  It hurts, but it is their job to support their family member and protect and care for them during this transition.  If they didn’t, you’d have to wonder what type of loyalty they possess and therefore, if you’d want them in your life anyway.  [Sidenote:  This stems from the “we don’t like them rule”.  If one family member is hurt by someone, you have to do damage control even if you are not taking sides.  Having a party and inviting two people who don’t want to see each other is never a good time.  Additionally, speaking to the offender could lead to allegations of gossiping, etc.  Just stay out of it.]

My ex father-in-law and I were very close friends for 5 years before I dated his son.  We had a relationship based on mutual respect and love.  It involved him helping me with things as a father figure, arguing/debating, and consuming mass quantities of hot wings and beer.  I was ecstatic to have him as a father-in-law.  When my ex and I split, things were said (not by me) and he chose to end our relationship.  I have seen him at the girls’ functions and he is cordial but we no longer have a relationship.  It was one of the most painful things about my divorce.  All that said, I’m glad.  My ex deserves a father like him and it be unfair for him to maintain a friendship with me.  I wish it wasn’t handled this way but his gruff inability to properly handle emotions has always been endearing.  I smile when the girls talk about him and I’m glad they have him as a grandfather.

I say this because people do not consider who they will lose in addition to their spouse.  This should not in any way keep you in a dead/abusive/failed/loveless relationship, but you need to prepare for this.  Being blindsided when someone simply stops returning your calls is much more hurtful than if you expect and prepare for this possible reaction.  Taking responsibility for your decision means understanding that others may not agree with it, and you may lose them.

Even if you do, you will be fine.  If you are already a single parent, you know you can handle just about anything by now.  People come and go as you grow.  It is normal to outgrow relationships and for relationships to end or evolve.  Be kind and open when you see them and make it clear that you are there if they ever change their mind.  In the meantime, you have a life to live.  Go live it.