10 Things Not to Say to Children with Divorced Parents
It can be hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes but we should always try to think before we speak, especially around children with divorced parents. They already have a lot on their plates, so they shouldn't have to deal with insensitive comments. Here, we offer some alternatives to common questions and topics of conversation.
- “Have you seen your dad lately?” No matter what answer you get, you're likely to upset the child. Either you're reminding them that actually no they haven't seen him lately, or they're wondering why you would ask such as thing and if he's going to be leaving. Alternative: None. Just leave this one alone.
- “I bet your mommy's going to love that picture.” I'm sure she will. Unless she's isn't in contact with the child. Or she has some kind of substance abuse issue that complicates the relationship. Or she's just a dysfunctional parent. Alternative: “I can really tell you worked hard on that!”
- “What are you doing with your dad on Father's Day?” Again, this can be a very loaded, and painful, question for children whose fathers aren't around. Even if they have a stand-in, like a step-parent or a grandparent, this can still make it glaringly obvious that they're missing an important holiday with their parent. Alternative: “Have a nice weekend!”
- “Do you get to see your mom often?” Even when you have a perfect situation with peaceful cooperating co-parenting, the answer to this is going to be, “No.” Children of divorced parents almost always wish they could see both parents every day like “normal” families, and this question just makes them feel more self-conscious. Alternative: None. Find another conversation topic.
- “You're so lucky! You get two Christmases!” Yes, children are so lucky that their parents don't live together and they have to shuffle back and forth between houses and routines. Gifts don't make up for not getting to spend holidays with both parents. Alternative: “What's your favorite part about the holidays?”
- “Oh, you mean your half-sister?” Blended families are very common. There's half-siblings, step-siblings, step-parents, and more. While you may want to use “proper” terms, it's best to just follow the children's leads. Alternative: If a child refers to a half-sister as “my baby sister,” go with it. A sister is a sister. If you're really stuck, just use the person's name instead.
- “I'm looking forward to seeing your mom and dad at the play tonight!” One of the most important rules for dealing with children from divorces is don't make assumptions. Maybe Dad has to work, or Mom refuses to attend functions that aren't on her weekend. Alternative: “I'm looking forward to seeing you at the play tonight!”
- “Tell your dad that I said …” Children should never be go-betweens. This is true when we're talking about children being used as messengers between parents, but it's also true for just about any adult-to-adult communication. Alternative: Tell the dad yourself.
- “Is it your mom's weekend?” Does it matter? Co-parenting schedules can be hard for children to keep track of, and they may get anxious or worried if they can't remember. Alternative: If you need to know for scheduling purposes, talk to the parent yourself. If not, don't ask.
- “Do you miss your dad?” Another obvious answer one. Of course, children are going to miss whatever parent they're not seeing at the moment, and these kinds of questions are emotionally disruptive. Alternative: “How are you doing today?” When in doubt, always keep your focus on the child.
Do you have experience with children from divorced families?