If I am being honest, I never thought I would have to explain a break up to my daughter. I was committed to doing everything in my power to keep my relationship intact. No matter how broken I felt, I just couldn’t stand to take away the family my baby deserved…we’d be fractured but still together. In my mind, that was better than broken. Until all the tiny fractures became too much and I found myself staring my 3-year-old in her big, beautiful brown eyes having the conversation I never wanted to have.
I remember looking for suggestions on the internet but when it all came down to it, the only thing that I had…the only thing I could give her was my total honesty about our future. The following advice is what has been helpful for me and I pray it proves to be just as helpful for you.
Anyone who knows my little girl, Malia, knows that she is the most intelligent 3-year-old you will ever meet. She is precocious in ways I could never have imagined. When I talk to her, I never mince my words with her because her level of understanding is remarkable. When you add something as emotional as “daddy won’t be around as much” to a conversation, precocious or not, a toddler is going to struggle with understanding the message. Keep it simple. Be honest and answer all the questions she may have.
As angry and hurt as I was during my breakup, I didn’t want my baby to have to endure any added on stress. This was going to be hard enough. I spoke as positively about her father as I could. I didn’t hide that I was sad because she should understand that this was a change that she had every right to be sad about.
As much as we want to protect our babies from having to feel pain, we can’t. The best way we can help them is to allow them to express whatever emotions come up. There were many nights that my baby cried herself to sleep. She would cycle between being angry with her father to missing him to expressing how much she loved him. Of course, I was angry with him and wanted so bad to tell her that he didn’t deserve her tears or her missing him but this was her pain to feel. It wasn’t for me to decide how she should feel. It was only my job to hold her until the sun shined again.
Toddlers need consistency. They need routine. Changing up the game plan in the middle of the game can cause a toddler to lose their sense of safety and stability. I made sure she understood that even though our time and relationship with her dad was changing, I would always be there whenever she needed me. I told her she could FaceTime me if she got sad at daycare. I reminded her that I had been right by her side since the day she was born and that would never change.
I spent the first half of last year trying to convince my daughter that her father loved her because I wanted her to know that she hadn’t done anything wrong. I struggled to explain how he chose to distance himself from her even when he loved her until I realized the more excuses I made for him, the more I twisted what love is for her. Love doesn’t leave, nor is it selfish so what was I doing trying to convince my baby otherwise? It’s his job to prove his love to her, not mine.
There was a point as time passed that my daughter understood that she could use her father’s absence to sway me to give her whatever she wanted. When she first started show distress about the situation, we went to Chuck E. Cheese..alot! We once closed a CEC down! We also had a ton of ice cream and candy. I wasn’t just trying to cheer her up, I was cheering myself up. As my waist line expanded, I realized I had to call that mess off.
If ever I said no about something, she would pout for 5 mins. Then she would start to cry and tell me she missed her dad. Before I got hip to her game, I’d appease her with whatever I had just said no to. Once I realized what she was doing, we had a conversation about her being honest with me, not using dad’s absence to make mom change her mind and accepting my “no” as a No! I let her know that it was perfectly fine for her to express that she missed her dad but that it would no longer mean more trips and candy. She got the message.
Explaining a breakup to your innocent toddler will never be easy but give yourself the grace to be human and be honest with your child and together, you will heal. Remember that your child needs consistency and stability. It’s been a year since we became a family of 2. Gone are the nights that my baby cries herself to sleep. She’s the same sweet girl she was before the breakup and I’m looking forward to an even brighter future for us. If you’re in a season of change and pain after a break up and you’re struggling with what to say to your little one…take a deep breath, be honest with them (gently), and love them (and yourself) even harder.
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