Dear Care and Feeding,
My ex-husband and I have a generally friendly co-parenting relationship and rarely have problems with our daughter (6) and son (4). However, I can’t ignore his recent behavior, and I’m at a loss as to how to respond. Two years ago, when we broke up and he moved into his house, he let the kids get two guinea pigs, one for each. To be clear, I’m fine with this—my ex loves animals and takes care of guinea pigs, the kids are happy to have pets, and I even got pets while he was on a work trip. However, when my ex dropped the kids off at my house for the week, he said that if our daughter said her guinea pig (Pumpkin) was missing, I should “get on with it”, but in fact she had found it dead. his cage that morning.
She planned to go to the pet store, get a new one that looked the same (not tough, since Pumpkin was all orange) and keep it in a separate cage while she introduced it to the other guinea pig. By the time the kids get back, she plans to tell them she’s found Pumpkin again. Pets mean a lot to our kids and he feels that getting the guinea pigs really helped make his new home a second home to them. My daughter has been talking about how my dad promised he’d look out for Pumpkin the whole time he was with me and I keep picturing her feeling betrayed about that in a decade or developing trust issues when she learns Pumpkin is in Pumpkin II is a reality. Should I be eating clean? I don’t want to cheat my kids, but I also don’t want to create conflict with their dad. Would it really be terrible to go along with the lie?
—Riddled With Rodent Guilt in Richmond
It’s like your ex is living in a bad comedy plot. I understand you don’t want to fight with him about this, but he really shouldn’t lie to your 6 year old about what happened to her beloved Pumpkin and you shouldn’t put up with it. This cheating is beneath you both.
I’m not sure what you said, if anything, when your daughter talks about her “lost” pet, but either way, I’d tell your ex that you’re not comfortable letting her continue to think that the pumpkin is still alive. Tell him he needs to clean up and say Pumpkin is gone. Even if this mess isn’t yours, you could offer to be there to give your kids more support during this conversation. Will it be hard to tell them the truth? Yes, but it’s also the right thing to do – your ex can’t keep lying and replacing guinea pigs until your kids are adults.
No one wants to be forced to deliver such sad news to their children. But it’s important to be honest with them about this loss and give them a chance to grieve. There are a million books and articles out there about talking to young children who have lost a pet. here is just The few. I think your ex should do some reading and prepare to have a tough, honest, but necessary conversation with your daughter.
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