Telling your children about your pending divorce will probably be one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have with them. Even if the announcement is not a surprise (your children kind of saw it coming or can’t stand the constant tension and fighting), it is natural for children to want their parents and their family to stay together. This conversation will break their hearts and dreams and it will be one they will NEVER forget.
There is no perfect or easy way to have this conversation with them, but the following tips can make it a little easier.
1 – Present a united front. You and your soon-to-be-ex should sit down with your children together and explain the situation. Even if the divorce isn’t a joint decision, it’s best to present it as such and to incorporate the word “we” as much as possible when explaining the decisions that has been made. Your children need to feel confident and reassured that you and your soon to be ex will be able to work together and guide them as parents. As challenging as it is to do this together I can’t stress the importance of this enough. This is really ONLY about your children. It is not about you so do whatever it takes and refrain from accusations and bitterness towards one another. Make sure you have your emotions in check when you deliver the news.
2 – Avoid sharing inappropriate information with children. Please don’t discuss adult details with your children. They either won’t understand what you’re talking about or will resent you for a number of reasons: You are overburdening and overwhelming them with information that their young minds can’t process, you’re bad mouthing the other parent, and you are influencing them indirectly to take sides (your side). Only share with them what they need to know in an honest way and make sure you keep it focused on them. Explain to them what the plan is for them, like if they would be moving to a new house and how often they would get to see each parent. Remember this is going to change their whole world and you want to give them a sense of reassurance that you will do whatever it takes to keep it as balanced and as normal as possible.
3 – The kids didn’t cause this. Make sure they know that. Your best bet is to give the kids the reason for the separation but make it external to both of you and something that they can live with. “We grew apart” is a good one. “Your mom/dad is a great mom/dad but we just don’t get along as a couple” is good as well. The reality (in your mind) and what you actually tell the kids, really do not have to match. It’s not their fault, it’s an external reason that is not the fault of any of you: you, your spouse or your kids. And for their own well-being, that’s all they need to know.
4 – Plan what you are going to say: This is not the kind of conversation you want to do off the cuff. Be sure to prepare what you want your children to hear. If you are doing it together with your soon to be ex you could each take turns covering the important points you want to share with your children:
- “You know that Mom and Dad have been having problems. We’ve tried to fix this, but things aren’t working out.”
- “We both love you very much. Nothing will ever change that love or the fact that we will always be here for you.”
- “We will always be your mom and dad. But we aren’t going to be husband and wife any more. Your dad [or mom] and I are getting a divorce.”
- “You are great kids. It is our fault that this is happening — not yours.”
- “Even though things are going to change, we will always be a family.”
If you noticed the above points each have an important message:
- You are explaining to them that there is an issue between the two of you without getting into the details.
- You are reassuring them and letting them know that you will always love them.
- You are giving a clear message that this is NOT their fault and has nothing to do with them.
- You are clarifying that although things will change it doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative change.
It is best that you repeat the reassuring statements above as often as possible. You should let your children know that you love them and that they are not at fault for this at all. Children sadly internalize divorce to be their doing and need to hear this time and time again.
5- It’s not over until it’s over. Do not tell your children that you are divorcing unless you and your spouse are ABSOLUTELY certain that the decision is final. I usually advise my clients to do this when one of you is ready to move out or they at least have a preliminary divorce agreement and plan in place. However sometimes this may not be possible. In such an event, be sure that you discuss it with your soon to be ex so you can both plan when the appropriate time to break the news should be. Do not tell the kids without telling your ex, it is not fair towards your ex and not fair towards your kids.
6 – Timing is everything. Pick a time where you and your ex are emotionally ready to support the kids, in whichever way they end up reacting. Many couples don’t realize the importance of this and fail to respond to their children’s reaction effectively. If you haven’t yet come to terms with it yourself and are not strong enough for yourself, you might want to wait till you are in a better and stronger place. Be sure you have the support and guidance you need for yourself before you break the news to your children. You will have to carry both your pain and theirs. It would be great if you can arrange a support system for your children, it could be family members and professionals. Be sure to inform their teacher and guidance counselor. They will handle them accordingly and provide them with the support they need. Do not do this to them right before graduation or an important exam. Choose your timing carefully. Very carefully.
7 – Expect mixed reactions: No child will react to this news the same way, so it is impossible to predict how your children will respond. That being said, you should expect the worst and hope for the best. Your child/ren might start yelling or crying, perhaps they will storm off to their rooms and slam the doors, or start blaming and throwing accusations. Please do not take anything your child/ren is saying now personally. They are deeply upset and frightened and need time to digest the news. Depending on your child’s personality give them what they need. Some will need space and time to think, some will need hugs and reassurance. Be sure to tune into your child/ren needs and be there for them.
8 – Encourage questions: Your child/ren might need time to process the news and figure out how they feel. Therefore, you should expect to have many more conversations with them as things start unfolding. The first conversation is really just a door opener for ongoing dialogue between parents and children. Both you and your soon to be ex should be open to answering your children’s questions, and respond to their emotional needs. Don’t ever shut them down, or make them feel bad for asking questions that make you feel uncomfortable. Find ways to answer them in a way that is age appropriate but satisfactory without shaming or blaming your soon to be ex.
9 – Consistency is key — to the best of your ability. I know right now things might be up in the air and you yourself don’t quite know where life will take you. However, it is extremely important that you give your children clarity to the best of your ability. Let them know what they can expect. What school they will be attending and where they will live. If things aren’t 100% finalized or clear yet be sure to explain to them that you are working out the details and should have more information for them in a couple of weeks. Buy yourself more time than you anticipate to avoid unnecessary stress. Do not make promises that you cannot keep. Knowing what to expect and then seeing that it actually happens, will alleviate a lot of their anxieties.
10 – Stay calm. Your kids are watching and feeling you ALL THE TIME. If you breast fed your children, you may remember how they used to get cranky when you were tense or stressed. Children FEEL EVERYTHING. If you are anxious, they will be anxious. If you are out of control, they will be out of control as well. It is perfectly normal for you to grieve and you should, all of you, it is normal. That being said, it is absolutely NOT OK as a parent to be out of control in front of the kids, badmouth the other parent or neglect the kids’ routines. Breath, deeply, and be there for your kids. They need you.
With divorce, remember that your relationship with your soon-to-be ex is not ending; it is changing. You will need to continue to work together to be supportive co-parents to your children all the way into adulthood. Demonstrating respect and care for the other parent sends your children the message that you also respect and care for them.
Although divorce is very difficult and breaking the news to your children is painful and overwhelming, difficult, you and your children can come away from the experience emotionally stronger and with a deeper bond between you if the focus remains on the children and their needs.
Don’t hesitate to reach out for support and get a PRIVATE (and free) consultation session with me.
Here is a bonus gift for you, don’t forget to download your free guide on how to avoid the top 10 mistakes you want to avoid during your divorce. http://Divorcehelp1.gr8.com