Some of the best advice I was ever given as a young person that I wished I had gotten from my parents was, when it comes to the heart, “get annihilated.”
What? Get annihilated? This is crazy talk! Why would you want that for me? Why would I want that for my kid?
After my brain stopped doing flip flops, it dawned on me what this person was saying. If you’re allowing your heart to be broken, it means you are allowing yourself to live, to take risks, to put yourself out there. What I also loved about this message was the supreme confidence this person had in that I could handle it – that my heart was strong enough and resilient enough to go through complete annihilation and live. And by living, I don’t mean just surviving. What I got was that I could get my heart broken again and again and that my life might actually be better than the scared, small life I was living at the time.
Imagine this being the message your child is left with as you go through divorce – raising a child who is not stopped by heartbreak. This doesn’t mean they don’t allow themselves to feel it deeply, but that they trust the strength and resiliency of their heart.
Erin Breeze is a mentor and guide for parents going through divorce who invites us to consider divorce as a “divine disruption.” In Episode 3 of Soul Path Parenting, Erin speaks to the opportunity that the divorce journey can be for our children:
“What do we really want for our children and what do they need to see from us in order to live their most fulfilled life? We want things like resilience and how to deal with adversity, how to live authentically and how to face things in life that we didn’t see coming or we didn’t want to have happen – and how do we do things compassionately even when we are upset with people or disappointed in an action someone did. All of these things that are absolutely part of the divorce journey are the very things we do want our children to have experienced so if we can make that shift and give ourselves permission to see divorce in the whole context of how do I, for myself and my kids, see this as part of ‘it’s happening for me it’s happening for them too.’”
Imagine your child in the future when they get their own heart broken.
Look at your child. Imagine that they never get their heart broken. Is this really a good thing or does it mean they never put themselves out there? Never fell in love? Never let down their guard? Is this really what you want?
Now look at them and imagine they did get their heart broken – completely and fully. What do you experience when you imagine that? Do you want to stop their heart from breaking or do you want to make space for that heartbreak, let it happen, somehow even be joyful in the knowledge that their heart is breaking because they actually allowed their heart to feel deeply for someone? Could you imagine looking forward to the next time they get their heart broken again because it means that they are out there truly living and loving? I know it sounds crazy, but just imagine this for a moment. See if it does not release tension in your body that you are carrying trying to protect your child from pain versus inviting it in and trusting their heart’s resiliency.
Share your heartbreak with your child as you go through your divorce responsibly, gracefully, and authentically.
Sharing your heartbreak as you go through divorce does not mean dumping your emotions on your child for them to take on. This is not sharing responsibly. Ask yourself, “is there something I am expecting or wanting from them if I share this?” If the answer is yes, don’t share. Responsible sharing is also not throwing the other parent under the bus or “venting.”
Responsible sharing does not mean sharing everything. One parent I know got the question, “did he cheat on you?” As the adult, you have every right to NOT answer your child’s questions. You could say, “that is not a question as the adult I am willing to answer. I can share with you that I am angry and hurt and I am not willing to share the details about why. That is between me and your dad.” They will probably assume that the answer is yes, that means they did cheat on you, but the important part is that they are seeing you be respectful of the other parent and that you have boundaries about what you are willing to share – two important lessons.
Think of responsible sharing like a weather report where you are simply letting your children know where you are at. It could look like this:
“My heart is sad. You don’t need to do anything to change my being sad. It’s okay – that’s what hearts are made to do. It’s natural and normal for hearts to be sad.”
Grace to me is putting your emotions in a larger context. It could look like this:
“I’m okay with being sad because I wouldn’t be sad if I hadn’t let my heart love your mom. And I wouldn’t change loving your mom, I’m glad I loved her. I will get through the sadness and I am going to keep letting my heart love people. I would rather love and be sad than not to love at all.”
You may begin to well up with emotion while you are sharing heartbreak with your child. If so, check in with them. It could look like this:
“What is that like for you to see me being sad? What is it like for you to see me crying?”
Let them answer. When they respond, don’t do anything with the answer, just let it be okay. For example, if they say, “it scares me” or “it makes me feel sad,” don’t try to fix this! This is a big opportunity. This is where kids develop the capacity to not be afraid of other’s emotions or their own. Simply repeat back to them what they have said. You could say, “Okay, I see, what it is like for you when I cry or am sad is that it scares you and makes you feel sad. That makes sense to me, sometimes I feel the same way when someone is emotional.”
If you really feel you do not want to express strong emotions in front of your kid, be authentic about that as well. Let them know that you are experiencing sadness or anger or whatever it may be and that you are going to go to your room or your car, express them, and then come back and share what you feel is okay to share.
In the end, don’t worry if you get this perfect. Sharing heartbreak with our kids is awkward and uncomfortable if it was never modeled for us in a healthy way. Give yourself some space and know that any effort you put towards positively building your child’s relationship to their own heart will not be in vain. Know that you are also making an invaluable contribution to the big picture – to the possibility of a culture of people who take risks and trust their hearts versus being pulled by the current of fear and self-protection.