Kern Carter is writer and author of THOUGHTS OF A FRACTURED SOUL. He is a father, Millennial, and proud introvert who uses his writing to reflect on genuine life situations. He is also a contributor to Huffington Post and Elite Daily.
I still remember the very first time that my daughter asked me about the relationship between her mother and I. She was about 5 years old and sitting strapped up in the back seat of my car. The car was fairly silent until she said out of nowhere, “Daddy, why don’t you and mommy love each other anymore?”
Talk about not being prepared. I was pretty much daydreaming in cruise control not thinking at all about responding to such a serious question. But my daughter put it out there, and I couldn’t run from it. And I wouldn’t run even if I could.
Now, I did take a second to do some quick analyzing in my head. The fact that my six year old daughter associated me not being in a relationship with her mother with an absence of love was a good thing. It meant she understood that it took love for two people to exist in a relationship. I could work with that. I also knew that because she asked it so clearly that she must have been thinking about it for longer than the five minutes we were in the car.
I had a choice. I could have lied to my daughter and made up some long winded story to water down the situation to what I thought she could manage. But I didn’t. “We don’t love each other because a lot of bad things happened between us. Too many bad things to take back, so we thought it was best if we don’t stay together anymore. Does that make sense?”
My daughter answered and said it does make sense and that was that. Of course, she did have some follow up questions, but I answered those in similar fashion and she seemed satisfied. What was also important is that I felt satisfied with how I responded. I didn’t tell a white lie that I would have to explain was a lie later on down the line. And I’m not sure if she remembers that moment till this day, but I think she does.
I just really had to keep it real. And what I think that has done is set the table for how we communicate around her mother and my relationship to this day. When I filed for custody just a few short months ago, my daughter was the first one I told. Even before I went to the courthouse, I sat her down and explained what I was doing and why.
Yes, my daughter is 13 now, and a mature 13 at that. But I think this type of honesty should hold true no matter the age. I’ve kept my daughter in the loop the entire way through. Every appearance I let her know generally what was said and what the next steps will be.
Listen, I know age plays a role in how much info you reveal to your children. You want to protect them. You don’t want them impacted by your own feuding as parents. And I’m actually not suggesting you go into all of the horrendous details of your separation. What I’m saying is in most instances, your child is already much more informed than you think. My things was if they’re old enough to ask the question, they’re old enough to hear the answer. Being as honest as possible with them is always the best route. It does take a little tact in deciding how honest, but don’t create stories to pacify the reality.
My daughter and I have the most open, non confrontational relationship in the world. She tells me things about herself and her friends that would probably make some fathers cringe. But I take it, and we’re better off for it.
Keep it real with your children. Trust me when I say that any other approach only hinders your connection.