I am an adult child of divorced parents. My parents separated in 1990 and divorced in 1992. My dad then got remarried in 1992. My mom never remarried. Sounds simple enough, right? Oh, how I wish.
It seems that since I was an adult (if you can call 20 years old an adult) that I should have been able to deal with things in a logical rational way. The truth is that my parents’ divorce turned my world upside down. It wasn’t an amicable divorce. We sold my childhood home. I had a 10 year old brother caught in the middle of it. And I was away at college feeling entirely powerless. You expect to come home from college to familiar surroundings, to enjoy the family you’ve been missing. Instead, I came home to varying degrees of chaos.
I spent years, off and on, estranged from my father. In the times when I wasn’t estranged, it put a strain on my relationship with my mother. It’s been 18 years later and it still isn’t easy. But I’m really grown up now (at least that’s what the mirror says) and have a family of my own. It’s pretty easy to go about my daily life and only worry about those awkward family relationships when it comes time to decide where to spend the holidays.
However, my little boy is 3 1/2 going on 13. He understand and comprehends a lot. And he asks a lot of questions. Good questions. So I need to be prepared with answers.
He has Grandma #1, my husband’s mother. My husband has long been estranged from his father so there is no grandfather in the picture there. He has Grandma #2, my mother. He gets that these women are mommies. My mommy and Daddy’s mommy. Then he asks about our daddies. We have to explain that Daddy’s daddy isn’t around. He wasn’t a very nice man. That simple explanation seems to do it.
Then there’s my dad. We call him Granddad. It’s Granddad and Granny J. She’s not my mom. She’s not my stepmom (a distinction I’ve always made because I was an adult when my dad remarried). She’s his wife. And everything is just fine with that.
Lately, though, I’ve been starting to get some tougher questions.
If this is my mommy and this is my daddy, who is Granny J?
Where is Granny J’s daddy?
Is Granny J a mommy?
It’s pretty simple when children just accept what you tell them. So I’ve been trying to do just that. I tell him the truth. I don’t go into detail. I don’t add any judgment. I just simply tell him how Granddad and Grandma were married and are my mommy and daddy. But sometimes mommies and daddies don’t get along so they don’t live together.
Yes, I realize statements like that can potentially open up another whole can of worms.
Then, this morning, I was telling my son about some of my fond memories of my grandmother, who I am still convinced was the sweetest person that ever lived. Clearly, he was perplexed because I guess I’ve never mentioned her before. She has been gone for 28 years, after all.
Mommy, who’s your grandma?
She was a wonderful woman who lives in heaven now.
What happened to her? Did she die?
Yes, she had a very sick heart and she died and now she is in heaven. But she was so wonderful…
And on with the distractions. I don’t know if it will get easier as he gets older. I am sure he will be able to understand more of the details and more of the whys but I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I wish we had an Ozzie and Harriet existence but the more people I meet (yes, many of you reading this right now), the more I realize that nothing is simple anymore.
How do you handle the tough questions about your family? Advice always welcome.
I am interested in reading the responses that you get to this. My husband’s mom has been married to three men, and we call all of them varying forms of “Grandpa,” “Grandfather,” and “Pop pop.” I don’t know how to best describe them to her when the time comes, and they are all three very much a part of her life. Family is something that seems so simple, yet it truly is not. Big hugs to you as you navigate through these years of hard questions and even harder answers!
The questions don’t get easier, but as they get older they seem less frequent. You are doing the right thing – honest answers with no judgement. My kids ask about an estranged relationship in my family. I answer what I know and beyond that, I say, “that’s a question for “x” because I don’t know the answer to that.”
I have no answers for you but applaude you for being honest. I have my own dilemma. I won’t go into it here but I thank you for the reminder than soon enough I will have my own question’s to answer. I hope I can answer them as honestly as you have.
Such a nice post, and so many surprises to look forward to!
My son does not speak yet. But when he will, I hope it will be in two languages, and that alone will be interesting!
I imagine like you I will be honest without going into details. Keep us posted, I suppose it only gets better from here on out!
That’s a good idea. I always think it’s important to explain things to children when they ask, and telling the truth means that you’ll never get caught in a lie, and then the kids can learn something from the situation.