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Psychotherapeutic humanities - When to tell the children about the impending divorce?

Linda McCullough Moore's book of short stories, An Episode Of Grace, begins with the story entitled, "You choose," which begins with this paragraph:

"I’m driving on Route 91, going ten miles over the limit, on the way to my divorce, or, at least, to its announcement. My husband Jake and I decided we would tell the kids tonight. We’ve waited way too long. Our marriage died of natural causes years ago. We are planning that our children will be shocked beyond surprise, but we both know better. Any hesitation that we have about telling them isn’t fear of their surprise; it’s knowing that once we say the words, out loud, to them, it will be official, carved in stone, irreversible. But, of course, that’s what we want."

The childrens' names are Jonah who is 11 and Adam who is 6.

Of all the questions I get asked as a couple counselor and a family therapist by people going through a divorce are when and how to tell the kids?

My stock answer is "Don't tell them anything until you know specifically what the plan is unless they ask."

Kids being narcissistic in a healthy way first ask when told their parents are separating is "What's going to happen to me?" Parents need to have the answer to provide the child with whatever sense of security and predictability they are able.

The narrator in this story has her plan in place and has coordinated the telling the children with her husband and is on her way. But as she travels to the meeting with the children she gets stuck in a snow storm and as the various events unfold her ambivalence was divorcing her husband grows in poignant ways.

The ambivalence partners usually feel about a break-up with the concomitant anger, sadness, fear, hope, sense of failure and regret, are things the therapist witnesses and, hopefully, clarifies with the client(s) into some sort of coherent story that makes sense to themselves primarily and then to others affected.

The key question, often overlooked, in the emotional turmoil is, "What is the purpose of this relationship?" The genuine answers to this question usually lie at an unconscious level that the individual is not aware of and doesn't understand. 

The understandings of one's motivations, choices, and responsibilities are key to growth towards greater maturity so that the individual does not jump from the proverbial frying pan into the fire and engage in what Dr. Freud called the "repetition compulsion" to merely re-enact the same scenario over again.

The narrator of the story recognizes that telling the children about the impending divorce is a milestone in the process which she determines as a point of no return. It is an action which will make the rupture permanent and complete. The finality and the closure seems to heighten her apprehension about the decision to divorce rather than mollify it and liberate her.

You choose is a great story and much can be learned as we puruse our study of the psychotherapeutic humanities.

To be continued

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