Ask Dr. B: How Can I Help My Children Deal With My Breakup?

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Here is a repost of a segment of Ask Dr. B. on The Single Mom’s Playbook:

question-mark1-1Ask Dr. B: How Can I Help My Children Deal With My Breakup?
By sphilpott on February 16, 2014 (originally published)
Dear Dr. B,

I recently broke off a long-term relationship with someone. My children were very close to him and I’m concerned about how this will affect them. I decided that the relationship was unhealthy for all of us, but my children are angry and resentful that he is no longer in their lives. How can I help them cope?

ANSWER: It would help if I knew the ages of your children in order to answer your question. How to handle this tough situation would vary according to their ages.

At any age it is hard when children lose the support of an adult who has been involved in their lives, especially if they played a parenting role. For children who have already experienced their parents’ divorce, it is an even greater challenge. Some of the anger that they are expressing may actually be because of your divorce. It is easier to focus on your boyfriend’s leaving than their anger with their father and you for not staying together. When you speak with them keep this fact in the back of your mind. You may want to say something like, “It’s harder for kids whose parents are divorced to have someone leave.”

I would try to talk to the kids about how they feel about (for simplicity’s sake let’s call your ex-boyfriend, Joe) Joe leaving. You might start by saying that you wonder how they feel about it. If the conversation starts with one of your kids saying something like, “I hate you, you made Joe leave and he was the only one who understood me, ” you can be more direct. Then it makes sense to say that you understand they are angry and they may have questions about why you and Joe broke up. Let them ask whatever they want. Do your best to answer what is age appropriate for them to hear. If they are too young tell them that when they are older you will talk about it again, but do your best to explain things at their current level of understanding.

If you have examples of things that your boyfriend did that were hurtful or inappropriate, like a drunken argument that they may have witnessed, ask if they remember it and how it felt. Don’t demonized Joe, you can also help them talk about the good things that Joe did with them. Let them know that they will miss the good parts of having Joe in their lives and that you do too. Sometimes, writing to Joe can help, but you need to decide whether it is appropriate or not. Let this be a life lesson for your kids. Sometimes we love someone, but cannot live with them if they are unable to work on their issues and are hurting us.

It is also important to try to keep your children from building ties with the men you date until you are sure that they will be a good long term part of their and your life. It sounds like Joe was someone you thought would be appropriate. Mistakes in relationships happen, however, you can handle break ups better than your kids. If there are too many Joes, your kids may reject Mr. Right when he does come along. Take your time and wait as long as you can to bring the children into the relationship.

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