Are you prepared to tell your children about your upcoming divorce? Do you know how to tell your kids that you are getting a divorce? Do you wonder when you should tell your children about the divorce, what details to include or leave out when explaining why there is going to be a separation or divorce?
Getting a divorce may be one of the most painful and stressful periods in your life, with feelings of hurt, pain, loss and anger, but telling the children that you are going to divorce and why will likely be the hardest part of the entire divorce process. When done correctly, talking to your kids about the pending divorce can help your children cope with the sadness, confusion, and powerlessness a child often feels during this highly emotional time in their lives.
Children often don’t understand the meaning of divorce, and more often than not, kids blame themselves when their parents get a divorce. Children are afraid that they will lose one of their parents or that their parents will simply abandon them and they will have to somehow fend for themselves. Therefore, it is vital that both you and your soon-to-be-ex convey in your words and actions that you will always be there for your children.
How to Tell Your Children About the Divorce
Confer with your spouse beforehand. Divorce has a profound effect on children. Come to an agreement on what you’re going to say to the children about the divorce before having a family meeting. Your primary goal is to protect your children while being as open and honest as you can, so remember to keep their ages in mind when explaining the reasons for the divorce. Get your story straight so that you don’t contradict one another or argue while you are breaking the news of the divorce to your kids. If you don’t have this conversation beforehand, you may end up having it in front of your kids, which will only make matters worse for your children.
Note: This conversation may not be possible if you’ve found yourself in an unwanted divorce, or where the marriage included physical, mental or emotional abuse. If emotions are running high, or you think there’s going to be a lot of conflict or fighting if you tell the children together, it would be in your child’s best interests to break the news of the divorce to the children alone. In such cases, you may want to consult with a mediator or family counselor prior to telling your children about the divorce, in order to lessen the impact on your kids.
When To Tell. Choose a time when the conversation will not be rushed and both parents will be around to answer any and all questions the children may have. It would be best to tell children about the divorce on a day they do not have to go to school, so they can process and deal with their feelings at home with one or both parents around. Your kids will want to know where they’re going to live and with whom, and how their lives are going to change. You can help your children to be prepared for these changes by being honest about what you know, and what you don’t know.
Present a united front. Divorce can bring out the worst in people. If at all possible, both parents need to be present when telling the children about the divorce so they can reinforce firsthand that although they will no longer be married, they will always be parents and love their children. For the sake of your children, put aside the hurt and anger you may be feeling, so that you can make important decisions together about the details you’ll need to tell your children. Don’t go into any gory details, but provide an age-appropriate explanation about the reasons for the divorce, which will go a long way in helping your kids deal with the news.
Remind them of your unconditional love. Begin the conversation by telling your children how much you love them and that nothing will ever change that. Reassure your children that the divorce is not their fault, and that your divorce has absolutely nothing to do with them. Give kids enough information to prepare them for any upcoming changes in their lives, explaining that when parents divorce they stop being married, but do not ever stop being parents.
Don’t stifle your children. Give your children plenty of room to express their feelings about the separation or divorce, whether it’s denial, sadness or anger, as well as the opportunity to ask questions about the divorce. It will take time for your children to adjust to this news. Divorce is a huge change in everyone’s lives, and while you may be confident in the future you envision for yourself and your kids, it will take some time for them to cope with the divorce. In the meantime, be patient with their needs and make the effort to be a steady presence in their lives.
Don’t bad-mouth your ex. This is crucial, although oftentimes challenging. Blaming or bad-mouthing your spouse damages and hurts children. Remember that your child’s relationship with their other parent is separate from yours, and you must respect their relationship by not saying or doing anything to create parental alienation between them. Also, do not make messengers out of your children. If you are unable to discuss things with your spouse about issues or problems with the divorce rationally, talk to someone who can act as a mediator between you, rather than putting your child in the position of feeling as though they must choose sides.
Do not treat children as pawns in the divorce. Do not use your children as a means to get back at your former spouse. Any thoughts of withholding child support, refusing or not showing up for scheduled visitation, or verbally dragging the other parent through the mud will hurt your children. Avoid making your children your confidantes, but keep your grownup worries and concerns to yourself or share them only with other adults.
Be absolutely sure you want a divorce. Before telling your children that there is going to be a divorce, be 100% percent sure that a divorce is really what you need and want. Don’t be wishy-washy in whether or not there will be a divorce, as the damage to your child’s mental and emotional health is at stake. Keep in mind that if it were up to your children to decide, they would most likely want you to stay together and work things out. Children often fantasize about their parents getting back together and everyone living happily ever after, so children need to know that there will be no reconciliation.
Help yourself to help your children. For the well-being of your children, you must rise to the occasion and work to reduce your child’s stress and anxiety of the pending divorce, not add to it. I highly recommend anyone getting a divorce to read Surviving Divorce by Pamela Weintraub and Terry Hillman, which provides information to help divorcing couples navigate the legal, emotional, and financial stresses that go hand-in-hand with the breakup of a marriage.
Provide support. Having the added support of family, friends or other professionals will help everyone in the family cope with the transition. After you’ve told your children about the divorce, be sure to tell their teachers, school counselor, grandparents and other significant adults in their life so they can be on the lookout for behavior and mood changes in order to provide needed support.
Children can benefit from keeping a Diary or Journal where they can unload their feelings and raw emotions, as well as reading books that help children cope with divorce. For example, I recommend Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown and Laurie Krasny-Brown as a great resource for children between the ages of 4 and 8 years old; as well as Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way by M. Gary Neuman for children of divorce between the ages of 6 and 17.
Just because your marriage to your spouse is ending in divorce, it doesn’t mean your children must be made to suffer as though the divorce were there own. Telling children about divorce must be done, but done in such a way that greatly reduces their pain and stress over the breakup of their family.
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