Talking to kids about divorce
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Divorce, Ashley Simpo. It has been lightly adapted for clarity.
What is divorce?
So divorce is when two people who are married decide that they would like to live apart and to do that, they go and get the court's permission. And that process is called divorce.
Today we are having a conversation about divorce. This show is for everybody, so that means that no matter what your family looks like today, yesterday, or in the future, Ashley and I were thinking about you as we recorded this episode.
I think about exactly the reason that my son dragged me into the playroom that day at my sister's house—which is that [of] one of his best friends, AKA his cousin. She might've had questions that are very natural for kids to ask and that you don't know how to respond to. A simple question, like “How come your dad isn't here?”, or “Why is your mom always picking you up?”
And those are totally normal, natural questions, especially for kids to ask, but I think that there does have to be an awareness for all children that families look different. They come in different sizes and shapes. And I think for kids who have both parents at home, it's still important for them to know how to talk to their cousin who's going through a divorce, or their classmate who's going through a divorce, just to create a more accepting society. We have to have conversations with our kids that maybe don't reflect what we're going through, but they reflect what our neighbors are going through.
Here’s Ashley, sharing her experience with divorce.
So I was married in 2011. And in 2014 my then husband and I decided that we were going to get a divorce. We have a son whose name is Orion. And at the time he was almost three years old when we began to talk about it. And it has been quite a journey of learning how to do it and how to talk about it with each other and to other people.
There are as many reasons why people get married as there are for why people get divorced.
You know, getting married is very much like a lot of decisions that we make. We make the decisions with the information that we have at the moment. And sometimes the information that we have changes and our decisions become decisions that we want to change, but most people get married because they love the person that they're marrying.
People get divorced for so many different reasons. It's very personal. But some of the reasons can be that two people don't make each other happy anymore. Perhaps they are no longer getting along and that can cause a lot of strife if you're not getting along with the person that you live with.
One of the people in the marriage may want to be with someone else that happens sometimes as well. Sometimes couples argue too much about a certain thing, maybe money or their careers. Couples sometimes are not nice to each other, and it can be a situation that is either dangerous for them or their kids.
So in those types of situations, it's really important to protect ourselves in our space. And that's another reason why couples may choose to divorce.
Here’s Ashley with thoughts on how to process what’s going on.
I think it's really important to know first and foremost, that you are the most important person in the room and it is okay to ask questions. And if you feel comfortable asking mom or dad those questions, then that's good. If there's another adult in your life that you feel comfortable asking, then ask them.
It's okay to ask why and it's okay to share what your feelings are. Things will get sorted out and in the very beginning it's just important to be really honest about how you feel.
I feel like there’s a question that comes up a lot when a kid learns that their parents are getting a divorce: “Is it my fault? Is it because of me?”
Absolutely not. Marriage is about the relationship between two people. It's an adult relationship. It has a lot of complexities and ups and downs. Children are never the reason that people are getting divorced. Children have to have to witness it and see it happen and be a part of what happens afterwards.
But you're not the reason for a divorce. My son was not the reason for my divorce. I don't know any adults who got divorced because their kids didn't pick up their toys, you know, or something like that. So that's a big, big, important thing to know. It is not your fault.
A Kids Book About Divorce began with something Ashley’s son said to her after he went to California to stay with family over the summer.
He was very angry with me and he had a lot of questions and, you know, at the time he was about six and he sat me down and said, “I don't understand why you and daddy are not together anymore.”
Mind you, we had been apart for quite some years. But I realized that when my son was in California with the family, he was seeing my sister's family where, you know, they're married, they have three kids, they've been together for about 20 years.
And for the first time in his life, he was seeing very up close what his family did not look like. So he had questions. And when he asked me these questions, I wasn't prepared enough because [he] is a smart kid. And me saying, “Well, you know, uh, we just didn't get along,” ...that wasn't enough for him. He wanted more.
So I set out to find resources, something that was very current that was talking about divorce in a way that would help me relay it to my son. And I couldn't find it. So I started to just write down what I should say to him so that I was prepared for the next conversation that we had.
And when we talked, he told me his questions and I wrote those down. And I continued all along to search for something, some type of resource. And I actually came across another A Kids Book About on Instagram and found the company and searched on their website and didn't see anything about divorce.
How did you feel after your parents chose to divorce when you were 12? And how long did you feel that way if you can remember? Like, are you okay now? Did you get to a point where you were okay?
Yeah, I am okay now. And you know, I'm a big age. I'm in my mid thirties. But at the time for me it was a lot of change. When my parents divorced, I lived with my mother and my grandmother and we moved. And so it was a new neighborhood. It was a new school, a new room, a lot of new things.
And my parents deciding to divorce was not as big of a surprise to me. I saw them arguing a lot. I saw them fighting. So when it was explained to me by my mother that this was going to allow both of them to have more peaceful lives, I was able to accept it because I saw what it looked like. And so it was just a process of me learning to adapt to the new changes.
And that took a little bit of time, but I made friends and I realized that there were a lot of kids in my class whose parents had gone or were going through divorce. I was not by far a rare story. And so that was kind of what helped me move past it is realizing that divorce is part of life and part of the reality of just people loving each other and having relationships.
And it doesn't make you any worse off than anyone. It doesn't make you weird. It's just part of growing up is learning that that's part of love.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week, we have Ashley Simpo, author of A Kids Book About Divorce.