When people ask, I tell them my book, The D-Word, is not my personal story. And, that’s true. However, there are elements of Gina’s journey that were taken from my experiences throughout my parents’ divorce. Like Gina, I was also told of my father’s departure while on my way to what was supposed to be a fun summer vacation.
Unlike Gina, I knew it was coming. After my parents decided to separate, they were honest with me about the Uncertainty Of The Rest Of Our Lives. I remember going for a walk with my dad, and he told me that he didn’t know what was going to happen… but he assured me, one way or another, everything would be OK.
From what I’ve read, it’s not just me: Uncertainty doesn’t sit well with kids. In an effort to assuage my anxiety, I formulated a fantasy. My plan was easy to construct: my dad made more money, so naturally he would keep the house. I was old enough to choose where I’d live, and I was determined to stay with my dad because, at the time, I liked him more. My sister was young and therefore she’d move out with my mom. They’d have to leave, but they wouldn’t go far— there were some reasonably-priced townhouses for rent just up the street from my house and so I assumed they’d move there, making it easy for me to visit anytime. My plan came together easily— in fact, I had all the details worked out as I was preparing for bed in the hours following the conversation with my father. I thought it made perfect sense, and I recalled it whenever I felt nervous about What Would Happen Next. Even as I overheard conversations which should’ve caused me to reconsider, I continued to cling to that dream because it seemed the most practical and preferable to me.
Two months later, I was shocked to learn, as Gina did, that my dad would be gone when I returned from my vacation. I wasn’t invited to go with him, and I wouldn’t be there to witness his departure. After months of silently adding details to my Perfect Plan (my dad would get rid of the white ruffly curtains in the dining room and we’d hang unruffled blue ones instead), the fantasy was shattered in a few simple words. Suddenly, on my way to the beach, there was much cause for grief.
I’m sharing this story, as I’ve shared all of my/Gina’s stories, to illustrate the different world that children live in. Given their limited knowledge, their reality and conclusions are vastly different from those of Mom and Dad. As a nuclear family begins to progress towards bi-nuclear status, it’s especially important to keep an open dialog with the children. Give them as many answers as possible about what they can expect to happen next. If answers aren’t immediately available, provide regular updates and scheduled family meetings to discuss any questions that might come up along the way.
It’s human nature to tell ourselves stories in an effort to exert control over uncertainty, and kids are well-equipped with vivid imaginations. If left unattended, those imaginations can create a world of false security (expectations to be denied at a later time) or outright pain for children to exist in on a daily basis. It’s important for Mom and Dad to check in and make sure the whole family is on the same page.