Little N has been asking me, "Why does Daddy live at his place?" And so the discussion of divorce has started in little pieces. When L and & I separated last September I kept it pretty simple for Little N. I explained that Daddy was getting his own place and that many families live in two different homes. I went on to name some of Little N's friends who's families lived separately. At that time, he took our new arrangement in stride and without much objection. But that's starting to change.
A couple weeks ago, Little N's questions became more persistent. "Where is Dad?" At his place. "But why is he at his place?" I dodged it a little at first. I simply reiterated that this is how our family lives. "But why?" I didn't want to give too many answers until L and I were on the same page and could deliver the same message about our family and its new configuration. Plus, how do you talk to a child, especially a child on the Spectrum, about something as grown-up, uncomfortable, and routine-breaking as divorce?
Months ago I picked up a little Sesame Street Kit about divorce at my lawyer's office - Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce. It includes a DVD, a book for divorcing parents, and a story book, two-hug day, for the child. I shared the kit with L and we agreed that it was a good match for our family and addressing Little N's current questions.
The parents' book suggests language for talking about divorce that keeps the responsibility, problems, and decision in the grown-ups' realm. It also offers ideas of ways to reassure the child, like ways to talk about big feelings or establishing common routines that the child can continue to rely upon. The child's story illustrates the experience of going between 2 homes, explores some of a child's questions and feelings, and reassures the child of love and connection across the relationships with mom and dad.
I'm anticipating more questioning now and phases of new questions as Little N grows up. Before too long he'll outgrow two-hug day and Sesame Street characters. But a good foundation, I hope, is being laid today. L and I are doing our best to make safe space for Little N's big questions and big feelings. We are answering him honestly and consistently. We are reassuring him that we love him; that we are both invested in him and take care of him. We've established some basic routines so that he can expect when he'll be with dad or mom, although those continue to adapt with summer break, vacations out of town, and special occasions. He's doing a great job of adapting with us!
Finally, I'm really pleased that L and I were able to reach agreement on when and how to talk to Little N about divorce. We got lucky in finding that kit and even luckier to both like it. We got lucky that Little N started speaking up about his questions, letting us know it was time for more and better answers. In just a few emails, which, really, is how we communicate clearly and child free with each other these days, L and I were able to agree to the timing and the current solution for Little N's needs. The better we can learn to communicate as co-parents of a little guy we both adore, the greater the peace and stability for Little N.