Lakshmi asks: I am a mother of an 8-year-old. Of late my husband and I are not like we used to be. We have been frequently fighting, and today he said that he doesn’t want me in his life anymore. I am confused about the kid. I am from India, where divorce is still not very well accepted. I need advice please.
Hi Lakshmi –
I’m so very sorry that you’re going through such a painful experience. I can’t imagine many things much more difficult.
I have to admit, I’m confused on one point. You say that you are “from India,” but are you still living there now, or have you moved to another country? Regardless, I don’t know where you are, so I can’t comment on the specific divorce laws of that area (not that I’m any expert on any laws other than the local leash laws, which are pretty scary to me!).
But I can comment on two aspects of what you say. Firstly, although I think it’s terrible, people often say very harsh things to their spouses, way more intense than they really mean. When your husband said he didn’t want you in his life anymore, it’s possible that he was just speaking his feelings at that moment, and not truly ending your marriage.
If you want to stay with him, are there ways you can do that? For example, can you go to some sort of couples’ counseling with him? It is best for couples to work things out, rather than just try to “sweep them under the rug,” so I’d be all for that.
But if he really is ending your marriage, then yes, the most important question is what to do with your child. Here are some suggestions I have, though I’m sure there’s much more that should be done.
1) Have a very serious talk with your child, ideally with your husband teaming up with you, to explain what has happened in very clear, specific terms. It’s most important that your child know that the divorce is not their fault in any way, and that there’s nothing they can do to fix it. Children’s minds tend to go to those places, and you don’t want to make this worse than it already is for them by encouraging that. In fact, if you can, it’s great to get your kid a therapist to help them through this tough time.
2) Try to decide with your husband (in other words, not in a courtroom!) how to split the custody of the child in the best way possible. If there’s any way to avoid a fight, that will make your child’s life immensely better. And once you’ve come up with an agreement, tell it to the kid. “You’re going to spend weekdays at my house and weekends at your dad’s.” Your child’s brain is going to have some big work to do to reset and reform its sense of its world, including concepts like “home,” “parents” and “normal.” The more and the sooner you can give your child this information, the better for them. (Also, that will reduce any anxiety they may have about what’s going to happen to their lives).
3) Make an agreement with your husband that you a) won’t argue about this in front of your child, and b) will never talk disparagingly about the other one in front of the kid either. However you two feel about each other, you are still that kid’s parents, and it would be very emotionally harmful for them to hear putdowns of you two from each other. Someday when that kid’s grown up, you can have a good talk about what went wrong in the marriage. But until then, keep that issue between you and your friends.
4) Prepare for difficult times, and be patient! Your child’s whole world is being turned around. I can guarantee you, they will act out with bad behavior, get depressed, get rebellious, do badly with schoolwork, work extra hard to gain your approval, defend each of you to the other, and despise anyone else either of you dates. This is totally normal. Of course I’m not saying you should encourage bad behavior from your child, but you also need to reduce all shaming of that kid as much as you can. They’re going through what they need to go through. You don’t like it, they don’t like it, and I don’t like it either! But it’s part of the reality of the situation.
5) LOVE THAT KID! Give your child more hugs and kisses and support than you ever have. They need it!
6) And, fitting with that last one, if you’re able to, I think it’d be great if you got your kid a dog! Nothing makes a home (either of their homes, or both) warmer and more welcoming than a pooch. It will give a stability that you and your husband simply can’t provide, given the tough time you’re going through.
So those are my main thoughts, Lakshmi. I really hope you and your husband are able to work your issues out, and the majority of this letter is a total waste of your time. But just in case, remember that marriages break up all the time, and most kids come through it just fine. As long as you and your husband can focus your efforts on being the best parents possible, I think it’s all going to be okay.