Lucky Dad No. 11: "You Aren't Going to Get Divorced, Are You?"
This was the most heart-breaking of all the questions that the girls threw into our laps from the back seat of the minivan. Once again, Francine gave me the look that said, “Honey, why don’t you handle this one?”
There are many topics that we would rather not have to discuss with our kids, and divorce is right up there with money and sex. But kids are going to hear about these things, and a lot more, whether we want them to or not. We try to shelter them from the worst of humanity’s woes and depravities, and with luck they won’t have to deal with them before they are ready. I will readily concede that we were lucky—very lucky—in this regard. Some topics, though, will intrude at least into the periphery of almost every child’s life. Very few children in America come of age without having to deal in some way with divorce, addiction, and the death of loved ones. As Gandalf put it, “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.”
Kids don’t ask these questions out of the blue. When the divorce question floated up from the back seat, there must have been a schoolmate whose parents were going through divorce. In any case, I had a snap decision to make. (Thanks for that, Francine!) How deep should I go in answering the question? One path would lead to a potentially long talk about marriage, divorce, what happens when a family breaks up, the effect on children, and so on. A big, serious discussion. I’m a lucky Dad, and a pretty good one, I think, but I’m no Fred Rogers. He did a whole week on divorce once, on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. You can find excerpts on the internet, if you want to see a genius at work. I’m no Fred Rogers, though; I'm just an ordinary mortal. I won’t shy away from a serious talk with the kids when it’s necessary, but I usually don’t go straight to the heavy lifting. So I looked for an easier path.
In this, I was guided by a bit of wisdom my mother taught me, which is, “Just answer the question you’re asked.” In other words, one step at a time. So I answered the question. I suppose a simple “No” might have sufficed, but everyone likes to be given a reason. Moreover, kids need to be reassured—as Fred Rogers frequently reminded us. My daughters wanted to hear that we weren’t going to get divorced, and like everyone else, kids like to know the “because” behind an answer. So I gave them a reason—the first reason that came to my mind—and it seemed to satisfy them. I said:
“No. We couldn’t possibly afford it.”