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Will you ever tell them the truth about the marriage?

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 
I know we aren't supposed to share with our stepkids all the crazy things their mother did BUT I was just reading the book "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce" and it said that the kids were never told the truth about why the marriage ended (and courts encourage this) so almost universally, they blamed themselves. Or, inthe case of an abused mom, they would blame the wrong person (mom should have tried harder. . .).

Now, dh and I have talked about this and sorta said that if he asked us, we would tell him appropriate information without much detail, but since it was a messy divorce mostly because of his mother, it would seem like we were just picking on her. I know that 'it takes two to tango' but there was adultery, tons of it, by her, and alcoholism, again, only by her. It seems like it is her place to explain the divorce to dss, but she would NEVER do that. In her mind, she had to do what she did (in her mind it is jusst move away) to get healthy to be a better mom.

Now, dss has never asked, the topic is taboo, but he is 10 now and has to be thinking about it. We thought we would just say, if you ever want to know just ask. But what would you tell? How much detail?
post #2 of 32
I've talked to my bio ds (11) about why his dad and I split up.

I was pretty honest and I was sure to accept equal share of the blame. I generalized a bit - left out some things that werent entirely relevant. I guess, I tried to leave out any heavy details that he couldnt understand yet. We were both unfaithful to each other but ds doesnt need to know that. I've had some time to look at our breakup and realize that the problem wasnt our infidelity, the cheating was a symptom of our failing relationship. So, I gave him the reasons of our unfaithfulness as the reason of our breakup. which, really, is the reason. kwim? (there were many other problems, I just gave that as an example)

I guess I'm trying to say, dont give too much details. Be as honest as you can for their age. Also, asking why they want to know might help. He may not really want to know exactly, just maybe a reassurance that it wasnt him; or that he's not doomed to the same unhappy fate when he gets older; etc.

I hope that makes sense.
post #3 of 32
I'm not sure. I don't know how much he knows but DH and I have a clear understanding that if DSS asks something we answer it honestly. He does understand the difference between DH and his stepdad. He knows DH is his "biological dad" (ever hear a four year old say that.....so sweet!) and that his stepdad is his "dad". He knows that DH and bio mom aren't married any more and that his stepdad and her are. He understands those things very well. He's getting to understand more and more that DH and I live far away. He knows that it's a "long drive" for us and that we don't live in the same state but the actual distance portion of it is beyond him still (I think). Those are the only things that have come up. He's never asked us (that should say yet not never) why DH and her aren't together and why Dh and I are or why she and his stepdad are. I imagine as the questions arise we'll answer them. DH was present til DSS was about three so him not being in state is still new to DSS (it's been about a year I think). He doesn't know them as seperates yet I suppose. Long rambleing post short....we'll answer honestly as the questions come up.
post #4 of 32
We talked a little but were very neutral. The funniest (most awkward thing) was when DSS 15 asked DH why he had married his mother because she was so fat and ugly. Oops. DH was like well I thought I loved her and settled for someone I didnt really love and was trying to tell him not to settle for someone out of desperation. It is very awkward.

My parents are divorced though, and my father ran off with someone he met on the train when I was 18 and I did blame myself as I was a difficult adolescent, finally when we were reconciled as he did not see us for about 15 years, I asked him why and he told me the truth and I realized it was not me at all. So we have tried to explain that they did not really get along and love each other, recently a lot of games have come to light and he has told them the truth. He is very good at being neutral and non-emotional. Better than I am!
post #5 of 32
I think explaining it in general terms about the parents "not being the best people they could be" when they were together is fine. Any further details should be as neutral as possible, and through that lens. The risk with going into more detail about who did what to whom is that the child may well then feel like a show of loyalty to the wronged parent is required, I think.

Last visit my older stepdaughter had a fair amount of trouble sleeping at night when she was staying with us, and at one point confided tearfully to dh that her mom had told her all about "the real reason" her parents divorced. No further details were forthcoming, but it sure didn't help dsd feel good, whatever it was: it just heightened her sense of conflict. Now, the last 2 holidays she has been scheduled to be with us, she hasn't come, with her mom's support. My sense is that the earful of rights and wrongs about her parents break-up amounted to one more thing that made her think that she would be disloyal to her mom if she continued to be part of her dad's home.
post #6 of 32
My parents were bad about bad mouthing each other. It wasn't flat out mean things but it was the subtle ways they said they dissaproved of things. Kids pick up on stuff no matter how subtle you think you are being. There were times I sided with one parent over the other as a result of it. My image of my mom was a lot worse than it probably should have been as a result. I definintely think neutral is the way to go if something gets said. Just cause you may or may not like the ex doesn't mean you can't play nice in front of the kids.
post #7 of 32
Thread Starter 
I agree that in most things you should be neutral but I don't know how to sound neutral when the answer is "your mom was a violent, suicidal alcoholic, who repeatedly cheated on your father and daddy was too co-dependent to leave earlier." Doesn't sound too neutral and sounds like picking on biomom. I guess, dss knows about alcoholism because she takes him to her AA meetings plus he saw it all. Its the cheating he doesn't know about and does he ever need to know? I feel it is all life lessons. Sometimes he says things like, "well, they can just split up if they don't like each other" or "he can just get a different girlfirend." I feel like if you don't tell, they assume it was them. Maybe its ok to talk aobut the alcoholism now (at age 10), and maybe infediltiy when he is older and dating.
post #8 of 32
My son knows most of why his dad and I split up. His dad's a drug addict (crack & sometimes needles of something) and doesn't even bother to call d/s more than about once every six weeks. His last call was in January. My son needed to know why his dad doesn't see him, and why he's not allowed to see him without supervision.

But, even though I think his dad's a pretty worthless individual, I don't present it like that to d/s. I've simply laid it down that his dad is an addict, and doesn't think clearly.
post #9 of 32
I've been very honest with my almost 11 year old (we separated when she was 5) mostly because she was a witness to some of the violence and name calling by my ex and I felt that she needed to talk about it. I think she's always been a bit more mature than most kids her age and I know it helped her work through her own issues about her parents splitting up. My ex even talked to her about what he had done and why it was wrong, so it worked out in the long run. I also believe strongly that sometimes patterns are unconsciously repeated if we're not careful and I wanted her to be very aware that it is not acceptable when there's violence in a relationship. Of course, she doesn't know the worst details like the sexual abuse or how often he was violent, and obviously, I don't think she needs to know any of that.

The irony is that in the months before we separated, DD was showing some behaviour problems but as soon as we separated that all disappeared. It showed me that the separation was the best thing for her.

Michelle
post #10 of 32
Jennifer,

I know you're itching to 'tell', but that that doesn't sound like stuff you should be volunteering! If he wants to talk about the AA, or asks for information, sure, give it, although maybe not in the terms you're using here.

It sounds like the fact that his mom has been an alcoholic has affected him directly, and he may want to talk about that some time. Infidelity, well, that's more an issue between the adults and shouldn't be made into one for the child, in my view. Maybe he'll come to some interesting conclusions about his mom on his own as he matures. I think that if he does, he'll always be grateful for and impressed by your tact and consideration in letting him figure things out on his own.
post #11 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by mammastar2
Jennifer,
Maybe he'll come to some interesting conclusions about his mom on his own as he matures. I think that if he does, he'll always be grateful for and impressed by your tact and consideration in letting him figure things out on his own.
Thats what we are hoping too!

*Beats head against wall in the meantime!*
post #12 of 32
My kids know the real deal about their dad. They accept what he is and came to their own conclusions. However, I feel really bad for my DH. He ex has managed to brainwash his kids about what went on in their marriage and because of it he has really taken an emotional beating and still does. It's sad given the fact that his kids are adults but feel this sense of obligation to their mom based on her 'constant sacrifices' for them. My DH was very active in their lives and always made every attempt to be there for them but she always managed to 'over guilt' them into feeling sorry for her. He's a very loving man and they are truly losing out on this relationship. They were never given permission to love him and blend with our family so they were always torn. It's sad to watch. The ex is so insecure that they over compensate because of pity. It's a shame that these 2 'kids' are being held hostage by a lonely woman and they can't be free to remember how much their dad did for them and how willing he was to be there but they were always being manipulated into 'taking care' of their mother's emotional needs. We'll never tell the truth (is the daughter really his?) about her indiscretions during the marriage but I think they got some insight about who she really is when she started dating anything and everything when the marriage ended. They just don't have the strength to question her. Maybe they can't handle it.
post #13 of 32
My parents divorced when I was 12. I spent half of my time with my mom and half of the time with my dad. All bad mouthing did (however true it may have been) was make me feel embarrased and angry : at the bad-mouther. Take the child's age and relationship with the other parent into account. There can be a lot of pressure in knowing too much. And FWIW...it never occured to me to blame myself.
post #14 of 32
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mammastar2
Jennifer,

I know you're itching to 'tell', but that that doesn't sound like stuff you should be volunteering! If he wants to talk about the AA, or asks for information, sure, give it, although maybe not in the terms you're using here.

It sounds like the fact that his mom has been an alcoholic has affected him directly, and he may want to talk about that some time. Infidelity, well, that's more an issue between the adults and shouldn't be made into one for the child, in my view. Maybe he'll come to some interesting conclusions about his mom on his own as he matures. I think that if he does, he'll always be grateful for and impressed by your tact and consideration in letting him figure things out on his own.
I am not itching to tell. I have been married 5 years and have not "told" but I do feel like there is this big unspoken issue in the house that we tiptoe around and don't discuss because we aren't supposed to. I mostly worry about his ideas about marriage. The alcoholism is more out in the open and talked about but all his mom's boyfriends, including the ones while she was still married to dh, is not something we talk about. By being faithful to each other, dh and I model a faithful marriage but I think that the effects of infedality should be talked about. Honestly, I think dss blames his dad for "leaving" his mom because he doesn't know the situation.

Of course, words have to be more tactful than those I wrote above. I think it is his mom's responsibiltiy to discuss her infedelity with dss but I know she won't. He is ten now, and doesn't need details now, maybe not details ever, but I do not believe that he does not wonder. I know that with my own (half) sister she was constantly making up stories about why her mom and our dad split up. Since she lived with our dad, she felt sorry for her mom and always had terrible (and now I know untrue) theories about what our dad must have done.
post #15 of 32
Yes, I know that my stepkids probably get some pretty bizarre ideas about adult relationships from their mom too! I know that I've recently seen the older of the two interacting with her dad in a way very similar to how her mother does - and she really doesn't know what a barrier that style of interacting with other human beings is to forming lasting relationships.

I'm still in favour of showing rather than telling, though. As you said, you and your dh are a model to your stepson of how things can be - not just in terms of faithfulness, but probably also in terms of communication and all the other good points of your relationship. I know that I'm hoping that in the end, that will be more effective than if we put our version out there for my stepkids to weigh. I don't know that making up stories about how the breakup happened is more harmful than trying to figure out which version is the 'true' one (something I was stuck with as a child, and remember vividly as pretty awful - it's like being in a twilight zone where you're trying to figure out which version of each parent is the 'real' one). Just keep modelling, and if your stepson learns by your example, the stories he makes up in his head about why things happened will just get closer and closer to the truth over time.

PS- I didn't mean 'itching to tell' in a derogatory, gossipy way, and hope it didn't come across that way. I do understand that you're coming from a place of love and concern for your stepson.
post #16 of 32
Thread Starter 
Thanks, mama. I know the conventional wisdom is to never talk about it and just model, it's just that, as I said, I had just read this book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, which followed divorced kids for 25 years and this researcher came to the conclusions that the kids never really did figure it out and had some real misconceptions about their parents marriage. I am just wondering if it is better to tell some truth, but the question is, whose truth? His mom probably feels that her version of the truth is somewhat accurate (as we convince ourselves that we are acting maturely) inspite of many witnesses and even court papers to the contrary. I am just wondering, does never mentioning it really work?
post #17 of 32
I believe it is the birth parents job to explain to their children the reasons for the divorce, and I personally believe it should be done by both of them at the same time. I realize that is often difficult to do, if the exes do not agree on the reasons and whys, or if they do not even have a good relationship post-divorce.
But for the good of our children, we have to put aside our differences and stop the blame game long enough to provide our children with a way to make sense of it all.
My older children understand a lot more than my youngest. We had an abusive marriage, so they witnessed first hand the reasons for the divorce. There have been some questions, why didn't we go to counseling (we did) why did dad hit me (hard to explain that one.) but for the most part, they understand.
Our youngest was just two when we separated, and he is just now starting to ask questions. He asks me all the time why his dad and I aren't together, and rather than give him a long story that he couldn't even begin to understand, we both say we yell and fight too much, and it was too hard to live together. So far that works.
I do not feel it is appropriate for Step parents to explain to their step children why their parents are divorced, simply because there is the potential for biaseness, and a very hard thing to avoid explaining in a fair way. Though my fiance and his ex have a wonderful relationship now, I have been told one side of the story by him, I have never spoken to his ex for her side of things, so it would not be fair to tell their children why I think their marriage failed.
I hope that makes sense.
post #18 of 32
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by magnoliablue
,.
I do not feel it is appropriate for Step parents to explain to their step children why their parents are divorced, simply because there is the potential for biaseness, and a very hard thing to avoid explaining in a fair way. Though my fiance and his ex have a wonderful relationship now, I have been told one side of the story by him, I have never spoken to his ex for her side of things, so it would not be fair to tell their children why I think their marriage failed.
I hope that makes sense.
In our situation, I am the nuetral party between two who can't agree. I can't see an unbiased view coming from the other two (bio parents). Since I wasn't involved in the pain of their marriage, I don't have strong feelings about it.
Because I have a bit of distance, I am the one he comes towith problems in school and questions about sex. His mom freaks out and his dad clams up, s o if he chooses to ask questions, it will likely be to me.
post #19 of 32
Now, dh and I have talked about this and sorta said that if he asked us, we would tell him appropriate information without much detail, but since it was a messy divorce mostly because of his mother

jmoreno,
No offense, but your OP, this phrase most of all, doesn't give the impression you are neutral at all.

My ex's gf and my fiance are both 'neutral" parties, as in, when my ex and I have issues and can't agree, the two of them are often the ones who discuss things until we come to an agreement. But I can promise you, that while both my fiance, and my ex's gf know their partners are far from flawless, both have a differing opinion as to who shoulders most of the blame. It is just a natural tendency when you love someone, you tend to see things from their side.
I just do not think discussions about why a marriage failed should be discussed with children by anyone other than the two people in the failed marriage, and even though there is guaranteed to be a differing opinion, the couple involved should put aside their differences long enough to have a mutual answer.
I also do not believe adultery has any reason whatsoever in an explanation to children about divorce. Maybe when the children are adults themselves, yes, but as children, it is just not appropriate,IMO. And believe me, if I wanted to color my children's judgement completely against their dad, I'd have tons of ammo in the adultery department. Out of respect for his relationship with them, the fact he still remains their father, I will never share that particular reason. It is enough that they saw more than their fair share of abuse towards me, yet they all have come through it with a good relationship with their dad, giving them intimate details is just not necessary.
post #20 of 32
My ex left when I was pregnant, so dd has no memories of living with him or us being together, or anything like that. I think maybe that has helped her to not think "it's my fault".

She's only 5, so we've kept to very basic explanations. Just basically that ex and I don't get along when we try to live together, we are better off as friends, etc. As she gets older, I'm sure she'll start to see what ex is really like. He's not a drug addict or abuser, but he's just unreliable, and immature. I don't need to tell her that. She can see the difference between him and dh already.

Oh, and as a child of divorce, I'll give my perspective on that too. I don't recall EVER thinking it was my fault. My parents both made a point of telling me that over and over. They gave me an explanation similar to what we give my dd "We tried really hard, but we just can't get along when we live together, we are both unhappy, and while we don't love each other as husband and wife, we still love YOU, and this is NOT your fault" And they never badmouthed each other until us kids were much older. And to tell you the truth, even at nearly 28, I don't like to hear it. I'm an adult, I can see their faults clearly, I don't need them pointing it out to me.

Based on my experience, I'd stick to very very basic explanations unless the kids are asking pretty specific questions. And then I think I'd frame it along the lines of the other parent is a good person who made some poor choices. Even if you don't feel that way, a lot of the time, kids see themselves as a reflection of their parents. "Well, if mommy/daddy is a bad person, does that make ME a bad person since I'm part of her/him?" As they get older, they'll figure out the truth, trust me.

Hope I'm not being too presumptuous here, since I've not dealt with problems of abuse or addiction with my parents or my dd dad. I'm just giving my take on it from where I stand.
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