The Best Way to Tell Your Children About Your Divorce
Many divorcing parents desperately want their spouse to disappear from their lives, but the reality is that a former spouse does not become a “former parent”. Though the couple’s connection to each other may be over, the one to their children remains. Divorce ends a marriage, but it does not and cannot end a family. Your children are always going to be your children, and your divorce is going to have long lasting effects on them. The fundamental truth is that your children need two loving parents. So, what do children need? How can they cope with divorce?
- They need permission to love both parents
- They need you to tell them what is happening patiently, honestly and in a way that is appropriate for their age and level of development
- They need to be able to ask questions and talk about their worries and fears, and other feelings. They need to know that their parents will listen to them and hear what they say. They need to know where to go when they want to talk with someone other than a parent
- They need stability and predictability
- They need hugs, support and love
“We are getting a divorce” – The emotional hurricane that blows through children’s lives during and after divorce can be devastating, but it does not have to be that way. Your children will remember forever how, when and what you told them about the end of your marriage. Telling your children is hard, but it is crucial that you do so in a planned and thoughtful manner.
GUIDELINES FOR TELLING YOUR KIDS ABOUT THE DIVORCE:
- Both of you should be present
Even if your breakup is unpleasant and difficult, put that aside and talk together with your children. It is important for you to appear calm and confident during this conversation. It is paramount for children to know that their parents can be trusted and relied on, even in challenging times. In addition, it is essential to control the environment during the conversation by removing any distraction such as the mobile phone or TV. If you have to tell your children about the divorce by yourself;
- Do not blame the other parent
- Assure children that they will continue to see both of you
- Tell them that you know they love their other parent and that it is ok
- Tell them it is fine to ask both you and the other parent questions
- Tell them the decision was mutual: “your dad/mom and I both agreed that we cannot live together”
- Talk to all your children at the same time
Over time you will need to have separate talks with each child, but it is important that they will be together when they hear the news for the first time. Avoid telling your children individually so that they do not get the message that divorce is secretive and the parents cannot be straightforward in discussing the divorce. Other children might feel left out and become more worried about what is happening.
- Be honest and give appropriate information
Explain that you are divorcing and that you will be living in two places. Say sorry that the marriage did not work and that you have tried hard to work things out and you are doing your best for what works for them. It is appropriate here to avoid talking to children about adult’s issues and that you are both sad that it is ending.
- Tell the children divorce is not their fault
It is likely that your children will believe they did something that caused the divorce. It is universal for children to blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. Keep repeating that the breakup is not their fault, it is important that children hear this message again and again.
- Reassure them of your love
Children often fear that because their mum and dad stopped loving each other, they may stop loving them too. Tell them that even though adults sometimes stop loving each other or quit living together, they never stop loving their children and how happy they were when their kids came into their lives. Even if the other parent is absent for now, let them know that the other parent loves them too.
- Talk about the living plan
Let your kids know that you will work out the details of where they will live and what their schedule with both of you will be. Assure them that you will listen to their feelings about the new living arrangements. However, it is essential here not to ask them where they want to live or how much time they want to be with you. It is vital that you make it clear that you are the adult and you are responsible for those kinds of decisions. Children will worry about bedrooms, pets, toys, friends, grandparents. Reassure them that you will do your best to disrupt their lives as little as possible and you will not separate them from each other; otherwise if it is necessary to separate them, then a child specialist should be consulted.
- Ask your children what they want to know
Encouraging questions during conversations and during family life challenges is also vital. Many children especially young ones do not understand divorce. They will have many misconceptions and worries. Some parents assume they know what their kids are thinking and feeling, only to find that children had entirely different concerns.
- Do not play the blame game
This conversation about your divorce will be a difficult one, especially if the children are asking, why you are getting divorce. It is crucial that you and your ex do not appear to blame each other for the divorce. Blaming the other parent can feel to your children as if you are blaming them. Children witnessing their parents’ hostility or sense of betrayal can cause long term problems for them.
- Listen and observe
Children can go through the turmoil of emotions during the divorce process. They may even shut down and appear like they do not care; on the surface they might, but the reality is that, they shut down in order to protect themselves. This does not mean they are not having strong feelings or are not affected by the news. Signal by your words, the tone of voice, facial expression and body language that you are there for them and willing to talk to them whenever they need to. This is paramount in the process of divorce. Some kids need time to talk more frequently, others rarely. Divorce is painful for everyone, but it can also be life-affirming and enriching. It is important here to model to your children that change is investable and it is part of life. Kids need to see you moving on and that they have much to look forward to and life will get better for them and you with the passage of time. Your children are likely to worry less and play more if they see you as someone willing to accept the change and get on with the adventure.