Breaking Difficult News to the Family: 6 Tips (Plus the Mystery of Siblings)
April 19, 2016
Making the BIG decision to uproot and go coastal kickstarted a chain of difficulties. But, of all the tough things to come the hardest part was telling Abby, our eleven-year-old daughter.
# 1 BE DIRECT & CLEAR
We sat down to dinner (BBQ chicken legs, beans, mac-n-cheese). Joe said, “We’ve made a DECISION.”
What the decision was about, the children knew.
#2 KEEP THEM IN THE SHADE, BUT NOT THE DARK.
We hadn’t kept secrets from them. They both knew moving was on the table, both had offered opinions on the matter (Ethan didn’t care; Abby didn’t want to move). We knew fully how they felt. All they needed was the DECISION.
Abby leaned in, the ends of her hair dragging across the plate. Her eyes widened.
“We’re moving and we’re absolutely certain this is what God wants for us,” Joe announced.
#3 HELP THEM UNDERSTAND WHY.
No, they don't need all the details, but give them the best reason.
Abby sobbed. The tears formed and flooded her eyes with the sudden, dramatic velocity of heavy storm clouds dumping out a torrent of water, bring-out-the-ark-style. It was the worst we’d ever seen, even worse than when her team didn’t win states in Odyssey of the Mind (just the week before, by the way).
Heartbroken, she asked to go to her room.
We let her go, and she stormed off.
#4 CALMLY ACCEPT THE INEVITABLE REACTIONS.
Joe and I looked at each other, crushed. We crumbled. At least, I did. Joe had been certain since the phone call, even excited as he started making arrangements for real estate agents and home repairs. I, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped FREAKING OUT. My tidal-wave of worries had become a permanent knot in my stomach.
But, none of that was as bad as this - seeing Abby so upset.
I was the bad one who said (only to Joe, thank goodness), “It’s not too late. Maybe we need to rethink this.” In defense of my weakness, all I could see was Abby’s flushed red face and water-filled eyes. Her little lip quivering might as well had been my shaking resolve.
If God really wanted us to do this, then why did we feel so bad about it?
Done with his dinner, Ethan stood up from the table, held his hands out, and said, “I got this.”
Huh? Who was this kid? Along with all the bad feelings I had at the moment, came surprise. Ethan hardly spoke to his sister on a regular basis, and now he was taking the reins on mending her heartbreak? What a mystery!
Both our children vanished to the upstairs, while Joe and I sat there. I felt guilty, helpless, worried, and anxious to fix it for her like I’d done a million times. But, there was no bandaid I could slap on the hurt she felt - at least none that I could deliver.
I peeked on them about ten minutes later. Ethan and Abby were hanging out in her room. Ethan scolded me for interrupting.
Twenty minutes passed. Abby came downstairs. She sat at the table and started eating her food. One of us asked her how she felt.
Through bubble-sized tears, she said, “I know it’s the right decision.”
The right thing is usually the hard thing.
#5 COMFORT EACH OTHER.
She ate her dinner. We had dessert. We hugged and watched TV. We let her stay up late cuddling. She told me she wanted her new room to be light purple.
#6 FOCUS ON THE GOOD STUFF.
Later, we talked to Ethan about what he said to her. It really wasn’t a big mystery, though it had mysterious effects. He helped her see the big picture. She’d make new friends. She’d go to a bigger school that offered more opportunities. She’d get on a softball team and make new friends quickly. She’d get to go to the beach all the time. He didn’t offer anything mind-blowing or especially profound.
He was just there for her, like she needed.
The hero of the night was mysteriously Ethan. He saved the day, not just that he made Abby feel better in a big brotherly type way, but he unknowingly got us back to the Yes Place. I, at least, had been slipping.
"If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath."
Psalm 34:18 The Message (MSG)
And how He does all that… well, it’ll be a mystery!