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My ex-husband has a mental condition and I am now divorced - how do I explain this to the children?

The questioner's philosophy
I am a follower of Christ. I know I cannot reach the stars, but I am powerful and wise enough to stop trying.
The questioner's hopes and aspirations
Hope to own an I.T. firm and be a leader/mentor in society, as I pursue good parenthood to my children guiding them to be responsible beings.
In 1998 I separated from my abusive and drunkard husband and was left with three children to bring up (two girls and a boy currently aged 14, 12 and 10 respectively). My ex-husband got into drugs and later went into a depression. He would occasionally loose control of his life, especially when not on medication.

At first I felt lost but with time I rediscovered myself and my aspirations which I am determined to pursue. I have since strengthened my spiritual life and have become financially stable. I am in a position to educate my children, feed, cloth and shelter them. I have managed to be their mentor so far. My husband's mother is very fond of my children and she is often sending them presents. She sometimes visits us at our home.

I have also allowed a close relation between the children and their father although they mostly communicate on the phone when he is stable. Unfortunately I never clearly told them the truth about his condition. Time after time he will do certain things that affect my life and disorientate me!

He recently re-married and my daughters are not quite amused. I would like to separate my life from my ex husband and assist in the retention of a good relationship between the children and their father.

What would be the easiest way of revealing to the children the truth about their father's mental disorder, explain his re-marrying and cut off my life from his?

Wallace's reply
Wallace You have been through a lot recently. Congratulations on getting your life back onto a stable foundation. Your question is a very important one because children can be scarred for life when parents get divorced - so you are wise to seek help with this question. The main principle to bear in mind when you are talking to your children is that of not blaming anyone for what happened, and not making one parent better/correct/right/superior/wiser than the other.

People get together and marry and sometimes it doesn't work out. The best way to look at the break up is that you simply were not suited to each other. It is very important for your children's sake that you do not hold bitterness, resentment and blame in your heart with regard to your ex-husband. Children are very sensitive and pick up these feelings from their parents. By absorbing such negative feelings the children can quickly come to feel that one parent was to blame and then get very confused - or worse still conclude that they were the cause of their parents divorce. You cannot control the attitude of your ex-husband, but if you take the correct approach you will have a healing effect on the undoubted shock that you children will suffer when confronted by your divorce.

I agree with telling your children the truth that you and your ex-husband are no longer together - at 14, 12 and 10 they should be old enough to hear it. However, as you rightly surmise, how you tell them is very important. I would explain the break up in this manner. Explain to your children thus:

"When we got married we both loved each other very much. When each one of you entered our life we both loved you very much as well. However things don't always work out and when Mummy and Daddy grew older we fell out of love with each other - just like when you have a best friend at school and you fall out and don't want to speak to each other any more. Since we didn't want to speak to each other any more we decided to live in different places and to not see each other any more. Sometimes this happens between a mother and father and nobody is to blame. Because Daddy is no longer living with me we got a divorce and stopped being married. That is why Daddy was free to fall in love with another woman who is more suitable for him and to marry her. Although Daddy is now married to this other woman (use her name) I will ensure that each of you is still able to speak to Daddy and to see him. I encourage you to continue seeing Daddy. Daddy still loves you very much and I am still and will always be your mother and I love you very much and always will."
Personally speaking I wouldn't recommend telling the children about your husband's mental disorder at this time. Since you intend to separate your life from his, I am not sure you need to tell the children about their father's mental condition, but if you feel a need to tell them this give them a chance to absorb your divorce first. Then wait for the natural flow of events to prompt your inner guidance on the right time to share your ex-husband's mental condition with your children.

By taking the right approach to telling your children about your divorce, you are teaching your children about the boundaries of responsibility and by rising to the challenge of your current life's circumstances, you are preparing yourself to be a leader and mentor in society.

Further Help and Resources
For you to be successful in supporting your children through your separation it is important that you are able to grieve properly and fully for the loss of your marriage. To help you with this you might seek the help of a bereavement counselor or join a bereavement group, so that you can explore difficult feelings you may be having. Most areas have such services posted on local community and church notice boards.

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