DEAR AMY: I am 65; my husband of 13 years is 67. Now we are divorcing. He will be leaving our state after the divorce, when he retires, and won't be returning. My husband has been a step-papa to my grandchildren. The older grandchildren will understand his absence and why. My concern is that my 3-year-old granddaughter continues to ask us, "Where is Papa Danny?" How do I and her parents explain the divorce and that he will no longer be in her life? He rarely participated in family visits anyway (he's that way, even with his own side of his family); however, my sweet granddaughter still will wonder and ask where he is and why she doesn't see him anymore. Because of certain circumstances, we have agreed not to contact each other's family members. Can you please give us your advice?
-- Divorcing Grandmother
DEAR GRANDMOTHER: Tell the truth, and do so in a way that is age appropriate and neutral (ideally "Papa Danny" would talk to all of the kids before he moves). When she asks, you should say, "Papa Danny moved away because we're not married anymore. Now he lives in a new house in (name the town)."
If she asks, "Will I see him?" you should say, "I don't think so, because he moved away and I don't think he'll visit us. But you'll see me just like always because I live here. I'm staying in my old house and you're going to come visit me, just like always." Answer any questions she asks, and if you don't know the answer, say so. If she acts sad, prompt her to express herself. Give her positive physical and emotional affection. Offer her lots of lap time while you two read together.
For young children, the treasure of having grandparents in their lives is the feeling the child has that they are with someone who is both wise and older than the hills and the stars. You may be feeling personally unsure or off-kilter, but in the eyes of your grandkids, you can make the world whole. Be like that for her.