Last year, TJ and I hit some tricky territory. He began asking questions about why his mummy and daddy didn’t live together. Three-year-old TJ was wondering why his home life was slightly different to that of some of his friends. I had to explain separated families to my little man. I hadn’t really expected this. Me and TJ’s dad split when TJ was so little that I expected him to be a bit older before he noticed a difference and these questions came.
So, I did what loads of us do when we hit a crisis – I went on Amazon. I hit gold when I found ‘You Make Your Parents Super Happy‘ by Richy Chander – a cute, gorgeously illustrated and simple book which perfectly explains separated families to preschoolers. TJ still regularly picks it off his book shelf over a year later calling it ‘the family book’. I am sure this is because of the book’s genuine loveliness rather than the need for further understanding about his living situation.
Here, writer and illustrator Richy K. Chandler shares the inspiration for the book and how it helped his family go through separation too.
Why did you write the book?
I wrote “You Make Your Parents Super Happy!” when I was going through divorce myself as a way to try to give comfort to my own son as best I could. By writing and drawing a book or comic, I can express my feelings in a carefully considered way that I just can’t manage speaking out loud. It’s very cathartic, too.
I was also conscious that the book could help other families and children going through similar things too. With this in mind, I tried to make the creatures in the book representative of all types of families. Neither of the two parent characters is specifically a mother or a father as it’s important that neither of them was depicted as more right or wrong than the other.
Do you think parental separation is tricky for kids to understand?
Without a doubt, it’s difficult to understand. A parental setup will usually be all a child has known. While an adult may recognise the start of a child’s life as a few years, a kid has no memory of their childhood beginning. So, as far as they’re concerned, things have been the way they are forever. So a change to that set up is a momentous change for your kid.
That being said, we are seeing more single parents, separated families and mixed families in both fiction and popular culture. This is essential to help show that there is more than one way for a family to work well and be loving and supportive, aside from just the traditional nuclear set up.
Why do you think books like yours help kids?
Children learn to navigate the world and their own feelings by reading picture books, both alone and with their parents. Having a book bring humour and comfort to issues without hiding from harsh realities is important. A well told story can help the reader to solidify a feeling or idea that they were otherwise struggling to express or understand. That goes for both adult readers and children.
Is staying together for the kids an outdated concept or still relevant today?
I think parents should consider all options for their child’s happiness. If staying in a relationship is making one or both parents miserable or stressed, I think it’s important to question both the long term benefits and harm that staying together could bring.
What advice would you give to separated families to help them navigate a split?
Normally when a couple breaks up, it would be the worse advice in the world to suggest they should still communicate every day. But, with a child involved, it becomes necessary. However, just because you are speaking doesn’t mean you have to deal with every unresolved relationship issue. You certainly don’t have to agree on everything. But you have to let some things go and accept that you’re not going to bring your ex around to your way of thinking. It may involve biting your tongue sometimes but do your best to avoid arguments in front of your child and speaking badly about your ex to your kid, whether your ex is there or not. Most importantly, focus on the common ground – in particular raising the child or children you both care for.
‘You Make Your Parents Super Happy’ by Richy Chandler is available to buy here.