Telling your kids about your pending divorce may be the most difficult conversation you’ll ever have. It’s only natural for children to want their parents and their family to stay together. While you and your spouse are able to clearly understand why you must proceed with this course of action, your children will be confused and find it difficult to process this new, life changing information. Having to dash that dream is tough. This is a conversation that children will remember for the rest of their lives. There’s no perfect way to break the news, but these tips can alleviate some of the sting.
Present a United Front
Make a plan together. You and your spouse should choose a time when there is nothing to do afterwards so your children have a chance to begin some dialogue, ask questions, and state their concerns. And while divorce can be traumatic for you, one of the hardest aspects is also how it affects your kids. Of course you want to shield them from any pain and suffering, but some degree of pain is always inevitable.
Reassure Them of Your Love
They need to understand that despite the divorce, the love both of you have for them will never change. That they will still be able to spend time with both of you and that the role of parenthood from the two of you will not change.
It Is Not Their Fault
Children assume that if they had behaved better, fought less with their siblings, received good grades or helped more around the house, they could have prevented the divorce. Tell children, in general terms, why the separation is taking place, keeping in mind their age and stage of development. Above all, children need to know that the separation is not their fault; regardless of what they may have heard when their parents fought, children are never the cause of a divorce. In other words, separation and divorce is an adult problem: “Mom and Dad could not find a way to work out our problems or to make things any better. We’ve made mistakes and we’re sorry that we’re causing you pain. Separation is a grown-up problem and you are not to blame. It is our problem.”
Encourage Them to Talk
Don’t be surprised if your children show signs of unusual behavior. For example, insecurity, regression with sleep or potty training, anger or naughtiness, or attention seeking. Remember, divorce is scary for children. Some kids will be openly sad or angry, while others may deny they have any feelings at all about it. And all of these emotions and more can flare at any time, and swing from minute to minute. Make sure they understand that you are there for them when they are ready to talk and that you would like to know what their thoughts and feelings are regarding these changes.
Tell Them What Is Going On
If you know some more of the details of the plan, like “Dad will be driving you to school every day just like he does now”… tell them that. Anything that is staying the same, mention and reassure them that these things will remain the SAME. The things that will be different – “Mom will be driving you to school now – we know that is DIFFERENT, but we are going to try to make that work, and Mom can do some of the same fun things that Dad did…we’ll see how it goes and you can tell us what is working, and what is not working.” Tell them what they need to know and spare them any unnecessary detail. Never argue or blame one another in front of them.
To help make the transition easier, there are some things you can do moving forward that will make the change far less upsetting for your children. This includes…
- Discuss visitation
- Discuss the family’s living arrangement
- Discuss routines and keep them as normal as possible
- Never speak negatively about the other parent the extended family or friends
- Always be polite to one another when you are dropping off the children or picking them up from the other parent
- Communicate with one another rather using the children as messengers
- Continue to inform each other about the children’s school information, medical information, all meetings and appointments. If possible both should attend.
Divorce is a difficult adjustment for children and parents. All family members must deal with a wide variety of emotions and change the way they live. Despite their own struggles in the divorce process though, parents still have an obligation to provide their children with love, nurturing and a sense of stability.
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