“My traveling companion is nine years old. He is the child of my first marriage, but I've reason to believe we both will be received in Graceland.”
- Paul Simon, Graceland
But then, you did the right thing by “putting on your oxygen mask first.” You took care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically so you could be the kind of parent that your children need you to be, especially now. Still, another significant life event has occurred, you’ve ended a meaningful romantic relationship with your partner and your children are impacted. They’ll watch how you behave for clues about their own behavior later in life when perhaps one of their own personal relationships end. They may experience their own version of loss, too.
If you’ve involved a romantic partner in your life, it’s likely that your children have developed their own relationships with that person. She may have attended the kids’ sports activities, family celebrations, or just hung out and watched television together. Your children may have even begun to imagine your girlfriend in the role of a mother or stepmother. As such, your children need your sensitivity and support.
Regardless of how your children felt about your romantic partner, there are a few things to consider during and after the end of that your relationship.
- Be honest. Truth is truth, right? In this case, being honest is a little more involved. Honestly should be focused on facts, like your relationship with your romantic partner has ended and you don’t think there’s a chance of reconciliation. Honesty should not involve the personal, and most likely complicated, reasons the relationship ended. Even older children will probably not understand the nuances of adult romantic relationships. Don’t burden them with the plethora of slights and perceived offenses that will simply serve to bias their opinions of your former partner.
- Be direct. Hemmin’ ‘n’ hawin’ only serves to create anxiety in children when an important subject is being discussed. Taking a circuitous route to the facts provide children with the time to let their little imaginations create their own, worst possible news. Especially for your children who’d grown attached to your partner, let them know right away so they can begin to grasp the change.
- Don’t embellish. Whether or not you, yourself, hope for a reunion with your former partner, stop short of creating unrealistic expectations for your kids. A break-up is quite a bit different that a legal divorce or separation. It’s extremely unlikely that the woman from whom you’ve broken up has any legal relationship with your kids. If one of your children asks, “Will I still be able to talk to “Jane?” your honest, unembroidered answer has to be, “I don’t know.”
- Wear your heart in your chest, where it belongs, and not on your sleeve. As already mentioned, your children watch your behavior, so you have to be careful about how you react. If you fail to show any emotion, your children may not learn that it’s natural and normal to feel sadness and other emotions after a loss. If you are an emotional wreck, your children may mimic your overreaction. Put the loss in context, process your feelings responsibly, and be the grown up.
- Watch for delayed reactions. One or more of your kids may, rightly or wrongly, feel that you’ve been victimized. Their only context to a break-up may be their friends’ experiences or television portrayals, which are much different than real life. At first, your children may say things like, “I didn’t really like her anyway,” in a show of solidarity with you. When the reality of the loss sets in, your child or your children may experience some traditional stages of grief. Be aware of the potential for a delayed reaction, be patient, and be ready to provide the support your children need to process the loss.
It was either William Shakespeare or Neil Sedaka who once famously said, “Breaking up is hard to do.” Like most things when the variable of single parenthood is added, “Breaking up is exponentially harder to do.” You do have some control over the size of the exponent, Dad. Keep that number as small as you can so you and your children can get over the feelings of loss and move on with your life.