“Boys,” I began, not sure if I would remember all I planned to say, even though I had my notes and a book tightly in my grasp. When I had their attention, I just said it, plain and simple, “Dad and I are getting divorced.”
My husband and I had only been separated about two weeks at the time. The word ‘divorce’ was almost as foreign to me as it was to my children. Having to tell any child about divorce is heart-wrenching, incredibly difficult and probably one of the only times in your life where each word you say truly matters. But, throw in special needs children, who see the world as black and white, without the grey area that divorce falls into, and who are often confused by language, relying heavily on semantics, and each word carries exponentially more weight.
I scoured the internet for guidance on talking to your children about divorce in the days that led up to that moment. There was a lot of information out there, but I couldn’t find anything geared specifically towards special needs kids. As far as I can tell it is a subject that has not been covered in depth in any searchable location. So, without a guide to follow, I started filtering information from each article I read, putting together the pieces I would need to help my sons. As most special needs moms can relate, this is something I have practice doing.
Since my kids each process information differently from each other, and differently from most typically developing children, I needed to not only decide what to say, but how it would be said. From experience, I already knew that I would be best served to give them limited information that was practical and timely, and then be prepared to give them more when they asked for it. The divorce conversation is huge, so I knew they would be processing bits and pieces at a time, and their questions would come later. Because of their varying processing abilities, it meant the conversation would be need to be short, to the point, and limited in its scope and direction.
Almost immediately the decision was made to not use the word ‘separated’ when talking to them. It wasn’t a term they were familiar with, and since we knew we would not be getting back together, it seemed unnecessary to add another transition: Married to divorced was black and white compared to attempting to explain married to separated to divorced. It also offered a small amount of protection from daydreaming about us getting back together, which I wanted to head off at the pass if possible. The challenge here is that my boys wouldn’t really know what the word ‘divorce’ means. Like all new words, it would require a definition and practical application in their world for them to understand it fully. The application of the word would come over time, but the definition needed to be the conversation opener. It was what came after that I needed to figure out.
Last month a friend of mine’s daughter came to stay with me for about ten days. She was dropped off by her mom’s friend late on a Tuesday night. My oldest son Gabriel was already sound asleep, and my two younger boys should’ve been in the bath and shower, but they were downstairs to greet her.
She came in, put down her things and I made her a late dinner. As she finished, I said to Nick and Matthew, “Boys, go upstairs and get in the shower/bath, I’ll be right up.” And off they went.
You might think I am crazy to send my 6 and 8 year old upstairs to get themselves into the bath routine, but since we’ve been doing this routine for their ENTIRE lives, it is something they have done successfully on more occasions than I can count.
Usually, Nick heads upstairs, to my bathroom where the shower and bathtub are next to each other, runs his shower, runs his brother’s bath, and by the time I get upstairs minutes later they are both getting naked and entering their respective bathing locations.
That’s what I expected on that evening as well. But it’s not what I got.
As I gathered my friend’s daughter’s things, including her plate and a glass of water, I instructed her to grab her smaller suitcase and start up the stairs. I followed her. Once I made it 4 stairs up, I could hear water running.
….but it wasn’t coming from my bathroom.
“Move out of the way!” I commanded as I began taking the stairs 2 or 3 at a time. I barreled upstairs and into our hallway, following the sound of running water – not the sound of a bathtub filling, but closer to the sound of a fountain – all the way to the hall bathroom.
I looked at the door, which was ajar about 3 inches and was shocked to find it was covered from top to bottom with dripping water. Oh Em Gee. If the outside of the door looked this bad, what on earth would the inside look like?