Sharing the story of divorce with your kids

Wedged into a corner of my son's closet, behind stacks of unpacked boxes of toys he's long forgotten and bins of costumes and piles of stray Nerf darts, there is a roll of paper, now creased and bent but still standing. I spied that paper roll the other night while I sat under his loft and sang him lullabies. Seeing it filled me up and took a bit of my breath away all at once. I know what's on that paper. It is the story of divorce, as told by a mom and a four-year old boy. It is just for him, but it marks a moment for me, and sketches out the choices I have made in the six years since we created it together about how I'd parent as a single mom, how I'd explain our family and how we'd work out all the tough stuff that can come up suddenly. Our story, as told on that paper, waits patiently for my son to unroll it, to read it, maybe to remember. I share the post I wrote (originally called "Right After I Explained to Him What Divorce Means") about how we came to write and draw this all down here today in hopes that it might help you find a way to explain or archive a separation story of your own with your kids. ~Jessica

Tomorrow is the court date I never thought would come. I've kept as much as I can from Lil E about this long and winding process while still trying as hard as I can to be honest about what's really going on. His memories of us being a family of three are beginning to fade and he is content in each of what he calls his "three homes" — with me, with his dad and with my parents.

But I needed to tell him at dinner tonight that my mom would be picking him up from school. And because he is the kid he is, he needed to know absolutely every detail of the arrangement. Including where I would be. And saying "at a meeting with Daddy" just didn't cut it.

So, as I do with my boy, I put it out there. Just laid it out right there on the dining room table.

I told him that after being separate for a long time, it was time for a judge to say that my marriage to his dad was over. That it is called divorce. And that after it happens, we would not be married at all anymore.

He gets the concept of being single (and God help me for the judgment which will surely come, if not from you then from myself) because of the Beyonce song I so like to crank and he so likes to do interpretive dance to while we both sing ridiculously and loudly. And he looked off while he processed what the end of a marriage would mean for his parents.

I asked him how he felt about that. He said "fine" quickly and quietly. And then he looked up at me very seriously and said, "I'm just so sad that we cannot take a piece of paper to the judge to tell her the story of Mommy and Daddy and Lil E and how we used to live all together and what happened before you and Daddy had trouble talking and solving problems and we lived all separate. I just think she should know."

He looked with those big brown eyes and I both melted and sat straighter in my chair. I told him we couldn't take a paper to the judge but we could certainly tell the story ourselves. I would write the words and he could draw the pictures. He nodded, and that's what we did.

I pulled out the big roll of paper and bin of markers and we went to work on the hardwood floor. Of course, it wasn't just a concession for a child. It was good for me, too. But what was better was that he was working it out in his head and we were putting all that on paper so we could see the big picture. We could see "the hard stuff and the good stuff," as he told me later. It was all there in its simplest form.

This was a collaborative effort and is complete with all kinds of pictures — of the Sears Tower at night and the moving van we hauled from Oregon to Chicago and the places we now live, all by Lil E, and the story told by me and approved by consensus.

But this corner, shown above, is Lil E's insistence, penned himself, that his dad came to stay with us "forever and ever" when we he and I moved to my parents' house. It's not true and he knows this, but he needed to believe it, needed to put it in his own writing.

It is the first sentence he's ever written alone. And so it is there, the corner of heartbreak, where this kid wrote out an untrue event to get honest with the real story. I loved him for that, and for wanting to believe the best, and so his perspective will stay right there in that spot.

This post was originally published on Sassafrass. All photos credit Jessica Ashley.