Faced with friends ending their marriages, Bryan Alkire wonders about the best ways to remain supportive and explain the concept of divorce to his young children.
First, let me say that my wife and I are doing fine. We may argue but it always passes. Although sometimes I will do something that gets me a look that I think may kill me, we are in a good spot and I am not worried. Unfortunately, that isn’t true for everyone. I have friends who aren’t doing as well. Some are ending short marriages, others are breaking up after a decade or more together. When I see them, I try to be a good friend and be supportive, but I have no idea how to do that.
I don’t have a lot of experience with divorce. My parents are still together 35 years later. Most of my relatives too. Oddly, with how common divorce seems to be in society, it is still pretty rare in my family. The only cases I can think of are from relatives I am not close to. My first experiences with divorce have been in my adult life, as friends have begun to split up.
I won’t begin to try to understand what brought my friends to this point. I don’t want to speculate what went wrong or what could have been done to save their marriages. In every case, my friends have confided some things in me, things I won’t share here, but I am sure there is much more they either aren’t ready to share, or just doesn’t want to. They have their reasons, and it is their business. I try not to ask. I will admit I want to. I don’t, because I know I want to know for completely selfish reasons. Part of it is curiosity, but, even more so, I want to know what went wrong so I can avoid that in my own relationship. Selfish I know, but I’m trying to be honest here.
As they work through the process of slowly untangling their lives, I hope that they can avoid some of the ugliness that seems to follow the breaking of a union. With one exception, it seems that they are trying and that is a good thing. Fortunately, in most of the cases, kids are not involved. For my friends that do have kids, I know they love their kids. I also know that they will do everything to try to make life as normal as possible for their kids. All the best intentions, though, will not change the fact that, for these kids, life is going to change. As much as their parents’ lives will be changing, the kids will be starting new lives as well.
How does this affect me? Well, their kids are friends with my girls. Soon the inevitable will happen. At some point, my friend’s kids will talk to my kids about their new family structure. I know my daughter will try to comfort her friend. I know my daughter will care. She doesn’t like to see people upset or sad. But she is four. I don’t know how she will handle the news. Will she understand or, in her efforts to provide comfort, will she make it worse for her friend?
Much like me, my daughter has no frame of reference for something like this. What scares me the most is what she will take home from this. I know this is selfish. My friends’ divorce has nothing to do with me. But it will affect my daughter. I just don’t know how. Will she come home sacred? Worried that her Mom and I will one day split, making every disagreement my wife and I have a major event for her? Leaving her scared that it could lead to her family breaking up like her friends did? Will she pull away from her friend, unsure of how to deal with something so foreign to her? Or will she just shrug it off as nothing, possibly alienating her friend with her aloofness? I don’t know.
I don’t really understand divorce. I don’t understand how two people who used to love each other just don’t any more. This makes it very difficult to explain it to a four year old. Do I try to do so before she talks to her friend, possibly causing her to bring it up first and hurt her friend, or, worse, telling her friend something different from what their parents have told them? Do I wait until she comes to me? Do I do nothing, allowing the fear I spoke of to fester until she’s ready to talk?
In the end, I don’t know what I am going to do. I do know I will support my friends. I know I will have to one day explain this to my daughter. I also know that I pray my experience with divorce will be limited to supporting friends and be something I never have to experience firsthand. Most of all, I know that my friends, like everyone who has to live through this, will make it through. They will be happy again one day and all the unpleasantness will exist in the past. I know the kids will make it through this and, while things may be different, they will be loved and taken care of by both their parents, and that is what matters most. I just hope that I am able to support my friends and comfort my daughter. For me, that is the best I can do.