Few children outgrow the warm comfort of a bedtime tale.
And like most kids, my son always enjoyed his baby pictures – watching himself grow and change. Divorce is certainly no fairytale, but I thought, ‘Maybe combining a story with our own family photos will help him grasp the biggest, most dramatic change of his life.’
When I decided to end my marriage, I spent countless sleepless, anxiety-filled nights trying to figure out how my then-11-year-old son might survive the trauma. I knew I had to help him understand that the divorce was not his fault; that his dad and I would always love him and keep him safe; and that things would turn out okay.
I wanted a way to tell him the divorce was essentially about change, not blame, just as he’d evolved from a toddler to a big boy. I prepared a photo album for my son that told the story of our family in pictures and words. It spanned from before he was born right up to the present, preparing him for our lives ahead.
He was immediately interested. My ex husband and I started reading aloud, stopping at times to reminisce about a birthday party, vacation or other memorable event mentioned in our story. It felt good to laugh together, if only briefly, sitting on the sofa as a family for perhaps one of the very last times.
Did our storybook-style divorce explanation take away the pain for our son? Of course not. But I know the tension was reduced significantly. And, through language and pictures, it helped us engage him in a way he could understand. You can use the concepts I’ve shared here to create a book for your own children.
With tenderness and respect the photo-storybook approach will be a gift that achieves the following:
Puts the divorce in context. Your divorce is not just the dissolution of your marriage. It’s a seismic shift in the family’s dynamics. Rather than merely talk about that change, photos help your child visualize it. When we sat our son down, my ex and I talked, cried, hugged, answered his questions, repeated answers, reread passages in the book and consoled one another. We gave the message that people and situations can change. Life evolves.
Photos provide a natural “script.” I don’t know about you. But I felt anxious about rehearsing a how-to-explain-divorce conversation that might leave me open to possible mistakes and detours. We made sure to cover the essentials. But this was the personal story of our family. The pictures would give me a free-flowing, yet pre-planned script, that was well thought through in advance.
Creates a child-centered focus for parents. My husband was angry with me for initiating our divorce. Resentment and divorce seem to go hand in hand. Having the book helped us, as a couple, to keep the perspective on our son. It was a reality check to remind us that this was not about good guys and bad guys, judgments and accusations. Beyond our differences, our frustrations and disappointments, we were still both his Mom and Dad and always would be. Our son understood that the point of our storybook was not to air our differences but to show him support during this difficult time.
Gives your child a tangible resource. Kids don’t do too well with abstract ideas. Something about the tangible pages of pictures helped our son process the complexity of what our family would soon experience. Sometimes we’d refer back to a page or two in the book as a reminder that Mom and Dad still love him forever and that everything will be okay. As you’ll see, the conversation about the divorce will come up many, many times in the following weeks and even long after the divorce itself.
I’m wishing you great success ahead for everyone in your family during and after the divorce. Always take the high road when making tough decisions. Your children will thank you!
Read more posts by Rosalind Sedacca, JenningsWire blogger.