How much truth can I tell my daughter about her father?
Most separating parents ask themselves their own version of this question. The main thing to remember here is that your daughter needs all the support she can have to carry on having loving relationship with her dad. So how much you are going to tell her will depend on whether the situation between yourself and her dad affected her life directly or not.
Let’s start with an easier scenario: if the happenings between the two of you were quite contained, she does not need to know the details. Get them of your chest with your friends, family, therapist and when it comes to your daughter stick with:
- We don’t get along
- We can’t work it out
- We decided it is better for us to live separately
- We will always be your mum and dad
- We will always love you and be there to look after you
In day to day run of the mill try and sprinkle in positive things about her dad, for example: ‘He makes good pancakes’ or ‘He’s good at making you laugh.’
It is a different story if your daughter’s life was directly affected by the events that lead to divorce. Let’s try to get to the bottom of it by looking at a particular example: a mum, let’s say her name is Gina, who’s husband’s drinking was the main reason she decided to end the marriage. He’s been drinking heavily for a few years prior the divorce and did not show up to pick up their daughter from school on a few occasions. Gina has lost hope that things will ever change and decided to move on. Gina feels that she has to explain what has happened, but she doesn’t know how to talk about it without pouring mud on her husband, she is feeling overwhelmed and stuck.
In a situation like this it is always helpful to start with a question: what does this child need?
In my opinion, Gina’s daughter needs help to make sense of her own experience of that situation. I am introducing an important shift in how we think about it: we are moving from this whole big story about drinking and what addiction is and instead we are focusing on looking at particular situations in which Gina’s husband’s drinking affected their daughter’s day to day life through her eyes. This is the main idea I want to introduce in this post, so I would like to repeat it: The question changes from ‘How much of the story can I tell?’ to ‘How can I help her make sense of what has happened to her?’ We are looking much closer to home. Focus shifts from the dad to the daughter, from trying to explain to trying to understand.
I’m sure you will find your own answers that will work in your particular situation, but just to give you some flavour of how this conversation might go, here are a few examples of what Gina might say to her daughter:
- It must be so hard when you never know if your dad will be with it or not.
- Do you find confusing how the same person can act so differently?
- What was it like for you to wait after school in reception?
It will help Gina’s daughter to find words to share what was going on for her with Gina. By all means, it is not a small task for Gina to witness and welcome her daughter’s confusion, sadness, disappointment and whatever else might be there. And it is the biggest gift she can give to her daughter – to help her feel that she does not need to carry it all on her own.
For more ideas about how you can support your child after divorce get your free copy of the workbook ‘Solid Ground: Debunking 3 Myths that Keep Divorcing Mums Worried about Messing up their Children’ at http://www.helpyourchildthrive.co.uk/#!free-workbook/k12vk