Dear Dr. Jann: How old do you think a child should be before you tell them the specifics of your divorce? My son is ten and has been asking me why his dad and I broke up. It was because his father left me for his current wife of two years, and I’m thinking now that my son is older he should probably know the truth before he gets any closer to that woman his father married. What do you think?
Dr. Jann says: OK, I understand the desire to be vindicated. Your ex left you for another and that’s not playing fair, but you have to ask yourself when considering passing on information like this, “How will knowing this help my son? Will it make him stand a little taller and feel more secure? Will it improve his quality of life?” I doubt it. Plus, your ex has been married to the other woman for two years and you haven’t sheltered your son from her so far, so he has probably already built some sort of rapport with her. Offering this type of information now would undermine not only the relationship he has built with her, but also his relationship with his father. I can’t see how sharing this information with him at this point in his life will improve your son’s quality of life, so I vote no on telling him for now.
What about when he becomes an adult, is that a good time to tell him? My answer will still be the same. If the information isn’t pertinent to making his life better, the information need not be volunteered. We aren’t saying lie to him. The fact is, the truth has a funny way of coming to the forefront even if we don’t push. As a result, you may be confronted by your son asking you for the real story in years to come without your needing to volunteer the information. He might be told by an aunt or an uncle, or even a friend who knows the whole story. With this in mind, no matter how difficult it may be, it’s best to talk to your ex now and agree about how both of you will present the truth if asked. Don’t add insult to injury by lying or tell your son two different stories. Be prepared just in case it happens and get on the same page.
For the record, I would like to say, “Bravo!” I only know what you have told me, but I certainly acknowledge that it’s tough to stay quiet with information like this, especially if you have been wronged. The fact that you have has obviously been for the sake of your child. That’s a sign that you are putting him first, and that’s always the best thing you can do. Don’t stop at 10 years old…