This article was first published in the Huffington Post on September 2016.
Children often suffer pain, confusion and insecurity when their parents separate. In some cases they even blame themselves, or feel that somehow it’s their fault their parents no longer want to be together. Many children secretly harbor fantasies — sometimes for years — that their parents will one day reconcile and get back together. At the very least, they hope and dream their parents can be friends.
When my ex-husband and I split up after 10 years of marriage, our daughter was 5 years old and our son only 3. Just as adults want to have their own accounting as to why the marriage failed, children also need to understand why their parents are no longer together. Because of this, we decided to consult a child psychologist about the best way to explain this new situation to the children in an age-appropriate way. By chance, she shared with us this special story about a land turtle and a sea turtle, which we then used to help them better comprehend.
Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a land turtle (Mommy) and a sea turtle (Daddy) and they met very close to a beautiful shore. They loved to swim together in the shallow waters and spend time playing in the sand. Soon they fell deeply in love and decided to get married. For a time, they continued to live at the water’s edge so that Mommy could sit on the sand and keep dry and warm, while Daddy sat in the shallow water to keep cool. A few years later two baby turtles arrived (you both!) The little turtles had beautiful brown and blue-green shells. They were very special indeed, and looked a little like each of their parents.
But as the years went by, Daddy sea turtle started spending more and more time in the ocean as he travelled deeper and deeper to look for pearls. And as a result, he spent less time at the water’s edge. Mommy land turtle also started wandering up into the sand dunes to hunt for food in the woods. Sadly little by little, Daddy and Mommy turtle started to drift further and further apart.
Finally one day, Mommy and Daddy turtle decided they didn’t want to live together anymore. Daddy turtle decided to live at the bottom of the ocean where he was happiest, and Mommy turtle in the sand dunes above the beach, where she was most comfortable. And despite the fact the little turtles were sad because their parents were no longer together, they quickly realized that since they were both half land turtle and sea turtle, they could sometimes live comfortably in the ocean with their father, or on the land with their Mom.
The little turtles continued to spend time with each of their parents. They made lots of friends with all the fish, dolphins and whales in the ocean and also many friends with the rabbits, deer, and foxes in the woods. They loved their quality time with their Mommy and Daddy. In fact they grew up to be a new kind of turtle with beautiful brown-blue-green-colored shells, that could live both in the ocean and on the land.
The children were delighted with this story and asked us to recount it many times thereafter. Over the years, this tale of the land and sea turtle has helped my children cope and accept the fact my marriage to their father was over. They know deep inside we once loved each other very much. It’s important for them to realize they were born out of genuine love and tenderness, and that our split had nothing to do with them, but rather everything to do with two people choosing to go their separate ways.
Thankfully, my ex-husband and I are still great friends and the children have grown accustomed to dividing their time between our two homes. We are proud of the fact our friendship has survived our divorce. Most important, we remain committed to our children’s emotional wellbeing and happiness.
Furthermore, today, I am also happily remarried and have two more children from my second marriage. All four children live with my husband and me, and we make a close-knit blended family.
Over the years, when it came to picking presents for their father and me, my two older children would often opt for turtle figurines or trinkets, even turtle cufflinks or pendants. As they grew up, turtles found a way to appear in their drawings and paintings, or even as gifts for their younger half-siblings.
This summer, when we holidayed in Barcelona as a family and visited the sights, the first thing my eldest daughter, now a teenager, noticed as we were about to enter Gaudi’s famous ‘Sagrada Familia’ cathedral, were the carved statues of both a land and a sea turtle guarding the entrance of the main doorway.
To this day, the tale of the land turtle and the sea turtle remains precious to us, and clearly very close to our hearts. So much so that it has become a part of the very fabric of our lives. I am simply grateful this healing story was shared with me at a time when my children needed it most.
***The tale of the land turtle and sea turtle is originally from the book Through the Eyes of Children by Janet R. Johnston (Author), Carla Garrity (Author), Mitchell Baris (Author), Karen Breunig (Author)