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Ask Julie: How Do I Tell My Daughter About Her Dad’s Past?

Q: I have a 6 1/2 year old daughter. My husband was married and divorced before and has 2 children. We

haven’t told her any lies about anything but we haven’t told her the “whole” story about everything.

I didn’t really think she was old enough to need to know or understand. I also want to preserve her innocence as well as foundation about her parent’s marriage. She is getting older now though, and obviously seeing more; her brothers are rarely with us so she knows they have another mom and things like that. I don’t know what or how to tell her; I am just terrified that it will shatter her reality of what her life is and should be to know her Dad was married to someone else before. I know she doesn’t need any details, but she will be asking more questions, and I really don’t know what to say. I know this was a very long question but any help or advice you could give me would be so appreciated. I wish I could come see you for counseling but I do not have the means to do that. Thank you for your emails and advice that you give out to me and others who are in the same situation.

A:  She may not be as traumatized as you think by knowing that her dad was married before, as long as you and your husband have made peace with his past.

Was there some kind of behavior on her dad’s part that led to the divorce like a affair or addiction or abuse in her dad’s past that you’re trying to shield her from? More important than saying the right things to your daughter is to examine your own feelings about the situation. I wonder if you’re projecting your own fears or insecurities about your husband’s previous marriage and children with another woman onto your daughter. Your daughter will take the emotional cues from you on how to think and feel about this situation. The more you can accept your husband’s past, the better your daughter will be able to accept it and integrate it into her life story in a healthy way.

My advice is for you and your husband to talk to your daughter about his past marriage in an honest, straightforward, and simple way. It might sound something like this, “Dad and I love each other very much and we love you. Before we got married, your Dad was married to ____ and they had your brothers. Their marriage ended. Dad and I found each other and fell in love and had you – one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It might be kind of hard to understand this grown up stuff but if you have any questions about it, you can always come to me and Dad.”

Thanks for your email and feel free to drop me a note and let me know how the conversations go! Take good care of you and yours.

Have a question for me? Send me your family relationship and emotional health questions here!

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Self & relationship expert Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW is wife of 22 years and mother of 4, a licensed therapist, a popular media contributor, and director of Wasatch Family Therapy. Listen to Julie’s podcast You and Yours , on B98.7 radio as the Bee’s Family Counselor, and read her national advice columns on Psych Central, and Latter-day Woman Magazine

About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.

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