Four years ago, their mother walked out on them with a boyfriend. In their taped conversation with psychotherapist and divorce expert Gary Neuman, both children are eloquent and profound in expressing their pain—something neither had been able to do before their session with Neuman: Daisy says that mothers who are married shouldn't have boyfriends. Kris, in his squeaky little boy voice, says that if he ever gets another mother, he'll get a better one—one who won't leave him.
By this time the whole audience and I were reaching for tissues. We could feel the depth of these children's suffering. The intention of the show was to tell parents that unless you know how to talk to your kids about divorce, you can create more scars and deepen the wounds of disconnection.
It surprised me to learn that most parents say nothing. They don't like to bring up the subject for fear of making their children sad. Or they are embarrassed and don't know how to talk about it, and therefore don't. But they need to learn, because, Neuman says, the way children are told about their family breaking up is a seminal moment that no child forgets. He has a few basic rules:
- Both parents should be present to tell the children together—with the main message being, you, the children, are still our priority.
- It should not take more than 45 seconds.
- Practice what you're going to say, before blurting out things that can hurt forever.
- Never disparage the other parent, because it makes your child feel guilty about loving them.
It was amazing to see that within just our hour of conversation that day, a slight layer of darkness was lifted from all the children who participated. You could see in their eyes that they were a little lighter, they weren't as burdened, they felt validated.
Neuman said something on that show that I know for sure: We heal through loving connection. Every time we're hurt or feel like we can't go on, it's someone reaching out and connecting that makes the difference. And love—no matter how it's offered or when it comes—can build a bridge to something better.