An Unexpected Teachable Moment, Courtesy of The Kardashians

Surprisingly, perhaps nobody is as shocked about Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick’s breakup as my 11-year old son. He flopped down on my bed to watch TV yesterday, just as a Keeping up with the Kardashians came on with a scene showing Scott suddenly appearing at Kourtney’s vacation house door and her family freaking out about his arrival. My son hadn’t heard they were even having problems. “What happened?” he asked me, with big dark brown eyes wide open.

“They’re getting divorced!” I said matter-of-factly (maybe too much so).

“What! Why?” he asked me, genuinely forlorn this could happen. I began to answer, then froze.

There were so many things I could say, but I didn’t know what to say! How do you explain divorce to an 11-year-old, who, himself, is a child of divorce? Yikes! I held my breath and thought as hard and quickly as I could, feeling like this could be a huge, teachable moment.

Looking into his confused little face, I worried he might take my explanation to heart and consider it in the context of what happened to our own family (or, decades later, in what would be his). After all, the last time I sincerely talked to him about divorce he was just in preschool — and it was about my own. I doubted the discussion with my then-four-year old involved much more than “Mommy and daddy have decided to live apart; we both still love you and will see you all the time.” The “why” part was not something he had asked, or I had volunteered.

With my heart racing so hard I was sure he could hear it beating, I didn’t know whether to be happy or concerned that he, as a child of divorce, was so shocked a family could break up. He wasn’t so jaded, sheltered or self-involved? Despite schlepping between mom’s house and dad’s house for years, growing up in our co-parenting world, and the statistic that half of marriages end in divorce (though not his friends’ parents, oddly enough), he still assumed most people stayed together? Wow.

So here’s the answer I gave him: “Sometimes, people just grow apart.” And, a second later, “Kourtney and Scott decided it’s best if they don’t live together, though they’ll still be a huge part of the kids’ lives.” I smiled and nodded.

Whether right or wrong, enough or not, that seemed to satisfy his curiosity just fine. His expression went back to the standard, blank “sucked into the television” stare he has 98 percent of the time. He was done thinking about it. But I wasn’t.

My mind continued racing until the episode ended. I weighed potential follow-up things to say, before it was too late. But the moment was gone. I second-guessed myself until bedtime. Was I wrong to say something so blasé as people “may just grow apart?” That could sound awfully shaky and scary to a kid. It certainly did to me! I didn’t want him growing up and having relationships thinking of that one statement as an absolute reality, inevitability, excuse, or, even worse, a constant fear.

The truth is, I said what I felt and believed in. I actually said what rings true to our own family’s experience. If I said the right thing or not, I may never know, though I am absolutely sure I’ll ask him fifteen years from now if he can quote me on this, and if he still believes in happy endings.

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