Estranged family is a tricky subject to discuss at any time, but as a parent, it can be utterly heartbreaking. Children have such innocent minds. They don’t understand why family difficulties can’t be resolved the same way that playground disputes are.
I very rarely mention my estrangement with my father here on the blog. Partly because I find it difficult to talk about and partly because I’ve moved forward with my life. My broken relationship with him is something that has been a huge source of heartache. Not just for myself but for others. I won’t go into details, but just over a year ago I cut all ties with my father after at least a decade of volatility and strained communications.
Any mention of him has been few and far between since I cut communication. The children are surrounded by love from other family members and friends and therefore rarely think about what has changed. However, last week I found myself having a conversation with Theo that I hadn’t anticipated. He was struggling to understand it all, and it was only then that I realised how difficult it can be to discuss a topic like this.
After wiping his tears, showering him with love and trying to explain why sometimes sorry isn’t enough he carried on with his day like nothing had happened. Whereas I was a little rattled, emotional and determined to find resources to use if the subject came up again. The trigger of his questions and upset was unknown, but I wanted to be prepared.
I was sure I could find a book or video that would explain estranged family in a way that I couldn’t. I searched pages and pages of Google search results, YouTube videos and children’s book categories and found nothing aimed at children. The lack of resources available is shocking. After all, estranged family isn’t exactly rare. All I wanted was something to help him understand why these things sometimes have to happen.
It’s my job as a mother to protect my children, to keep them away from negative and damaging people. For adults it’s easy to understand, as parents we all share a mutual need to protect and nurture. Children don’t always understand that we have their best interests at heart and that everything we do, we do for them.
So I decided to use this platform to share my thoughts on talking to your children about estranged family. When I needed answers, I couldn’t find any. I hate the thought of others being unable to source advice on this topic. We all need a few pointers at times, especially when it comes to difficult discussions and emotional matters.
First of all I think its vital to be honest, but guarded with your children. Of course you don’t need to tell them every tiny detail of why you no longer speak to or see a family member, but you also can’t pretend like everything is fine. They need to hear a sugarcoated version of why sometimes, people just aren’t good for us. It’s vital that we never share our personal thoughts about the person in question and remain calm. If you are struggling to know what to say, why don’t you repeat what I have told both of my children?
‘Sometimes people make us happy, they are kind and they make us smile. Sometimes people don’t make us happy, they make us sad and angry and even though we love them very much, we have to say goodbye to the people that make us sad’.
It’s also massively important to validate their emotions. Let them know that it’s okay and perfectly normal to feel sad or angry. If your child is missing the estranged family member, reassure them that missing someone, even if that someone makes us sad, is normal. Remind them that they can always talk about they are feeling.
We all try to be strong for our kids, but it is okay to show emotion in front of them. Emotions are perfectly normal no matter how old you are. Obviously sobbing in front of your children is more detrimental than encouraging, but allow yourself to shed a few tears if you need too. Kids need to know that adults have emotions as well.
Lastly, ensure they remember all of the family and friends that surround them. Remind your children of all the positive influences in their lives. Once they remember just how wonderful and loved they are, the void they are feeling will begin to fill.
If you have been through a similar situation, please do feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org at any hour, on any day. I will always endevour to respond to those who need eassurance and understanding. If you have any tips for discussing estranged family members with your children, please feel free to comment below.