Monday, June 16, 2014

This is What My Family Looks Like

I’m a worrier. I analyze what others do, say and think. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I’m not very patient when it comes to finding out what that reason is.

Recently my daughter came home from school with this drawing:

I wanted to figure out the reason she drew it. I wanted to analyze what she was trying to express. And I worried.

Little C is 6 years old. She’s energetic. Creative. Smart. Determined. Competitive. Athletic. Anti-princesses and Barbie. Pro-hugs and cuddles. And extremely inquisitive.

While her big brother asks the tough questions only when she’s not around, Little C is loud and proud of her curiosity. Since my divorce, she’s asked me just about everything:

  • Are you going to have another baby?
  • Are you going to marry another man?
  • Is Dad going to marry another woman? 
  • Is Dad going to marry Miss ____ (Dad’s live-in girlfriend)?
  • Is Dad going to have another baby?
  • Are we going to have to switch schools again?
  • Do you have a boyfriend?
  • Are you and Dad friends?
  • Did you and Dad have a choice to get divorced?
  • The easiest question (and my all-time favorite): Mom, are you going to marry John Mayer?
  • The toughest question (and the one I dread even though it’s been asked multiple times): Why did you and Dad get divorced? 
I answer the questions the best I can. No, I’m not planning to have another baby. I don’t know if Dad is going to get married again; you'll have to ask him. Sadly, no, I will not be marrying John Mayer.

Knowing how her brain thinks, I try to get ahead of some of her questions by using spontaneous teachable moments. For instance, one evening we stopped at the park during our bike ride, and my kids started playing with two other kids they recognized from school. Little C asked them if they were siblings. The older girl answered, “Kind of. He’s my step-brother.” That night, during her bath, I brought up her new friends, and we had a lovely chat about blended families.

Because the lines of communication are wide open in my home, I was a bit surprised when Little C came home from school with that drawing that she explained was a family portrait.

This was actually the second time she came home with a family portrait that looked like this. The first time was many months ago.  At the time, I was concerned the drawing meant she didn’t understand the change in our family dynamics and that she still saw our family as intact with a mom and a dad who loved each other.  Maybe she thought her father and I would eventually get back together.

On the other hand, maybe it really was as simple as a family portrait because, after all, those are the members of her immediate family. She does have a mom, a dad and a brother. That’s the only family she knows. 

In my mind it meant one of two things: She either didn’t understand the divorce at all or she had the healthiest outlook of all of us.

I asked her to explain her drawing, noting that our family didn’t look the same as it used to. Little C said, “I know. But this is my family. This is what my family looks like. And I put you and Dad on opposite sides of the paper because you aren’t married anymore.”

I looked at the drawing again, and sure enough, her father and I were on the outside with the kids in the middle.

A few days later, I showed it to the kids’ therapists, and they assured me I had nothing to worry about.

Then Little C brought home the family portrait pictured above. This time, her father and I were standing beside each other, and as she explained it, the setting is in the neighborhood we live in, not the neighborhood her father lives in.

The worried over-analyzer in me immediately jumped to the conclusion that she’s regressing, that she placed her parents next to each other as a sign that she still doesn’t get what’s going on after months of answered questions and explanations since her last family portrait.

But then I realized that maybe this was a good thing. Maybe this just meant that she saw her parents as two adults who love her, able to work together to co-parent in a friendly manner.

And if that’s the case, then we’re doing something right.

As time goes on, my daughter will not remember her parents being married, a thought that is both heartbreaking (because she won’t remember seeing her parents when they were happy together) and reassuring (because she won’t remember the end of the marriage). Right now, the divorce is still fresh, not quite 7 months old, and I have to give her the space to process her feelings at the level of comprehension that works for her and try not to project my worries on that process.

So I save these drawings, dating them on the back and showing them to her therapist to discuss with her as necessary. I continue to do my best to answer her questions. And I gladly give her those hugs she loves because she inherited her pro-hug mentality from me.


  1. My ex and I separated before my son's first birthday. He obviously doesn't remember us married. His now step father came in his life right before he turned 3. He does ask me questions sometimes. He understands we were married and now we are married to different people. If he ever asked me why, I just told him that his dad and I were better off married to other people. His dad and I get along fine now. He finally admitted it was his fault we got divorced (I was cheering inside at that one, how horrible of me), but we are fine now. We can easily share him with no drama or fighting. My son is better off with us not together. He has 2 sets of parents who love him. It's not easy and the questions are hard, but just because they ask the questions, doesn't mean they are worried about something.

  2. AnonymousJune 17, 2014

    I must first comment on the beautiful and colorful picture Little C drew. Every inch of that paper was filled with color and imagination. She obviously loves the color pink as well as sea creatures and tree animals. Great job Little C. As for the differences in the two family pictures, maybe it was her way of saying things are the same yet different also. She will be processing many thoughts in the years to come and I am confident that you will calm all of her fears and answer all of her questions. You will do fine, trust your heart.



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