Divorce is typically a sensitive topic that can be challenging to discuss, particularly with children. Some parents are unsure about how much to tell their children about the divorce, while others are concerned about their ability to remain composed when discussing it with them.
Some worry that telling their kids about the divorce will be too much for them, and wonder if it’s best to keep them away from the situation. Dr. Malini Saba, the founder and chairman of Anannke Foundation and single mother to a 12-year-old daughter offers these five guidelines you should follow before breaking the news to your kids:
Plan And Communicate With Your Children Jointly
Make sure you and your ex are on the same page before announcing the decision to your kids. A collaborative chat with your child can help reduce confusion, establish stability, a unified parental front, and reassurance during a period of change. Identify when, how, and what you’ll tell your kids, while shielding them from your pain or rage. Announce it on a family-friendly weekend. Avoid it around holidays, special occasions, and before bedtime. If you and your spouse can’t communicate or agree on a course of action, try engaging a mediator, divorce coach, or counsellor. Do not blurt it out impulsively in an emotional moment. That will not go well!
A Non-Blaming Narrative
Avoid blaming, pointing fingers, and giving specifics. Your kids, especially the older ones, will want to know why their lives will change, and you may feel compelled to tell the “truth”—”Mom had an affair” or “Dad is leaving us”. This will cause your children to feel trapped in a loyalty bind, which is unhealthy. Prepare a generic explanation without blaming. The “truth” is less important than giving your kids the love and security they need. Whenever feasible, say “we”. “We can’t be happy together,” or “We tried.” Our relationship is broken, and we can’t seem to heal it. “We each have distinct life goals.” “We like each other and want to be friends, but we aren’t in love.” Even the brightest and most mature children cannot comprehend these grownup challenges.
Explain The Changes
Your children will want to know where they will live, with whom they will live, and what will be different. Be honest about what you know and don’t know to prepare your kids for change. Unless you plan to nest, the more you can tell your kids about their departing parent’s residence and visitation schedule, the better. Reassure them of the aspects of their lives that will not change, such as their school, friends, sports, and other activities. Be sure to let them know that your love for them will never change. That they can have a good relationship with both parents even if they don’t live together and they are still a family with two homes.
Reassurance And Empathy Are Crucial
Children’s fears of divorce may be influenced by TV or friends whose parents are divorced. Kids may believe they caused the divorce or that their parents don’t love them. Ensure them that nothing they did could have caused or avoided this. During a separation, there are many unknowns, so don’t make promises you can’t keep. Losing their family may be upsetting for your children, and they may even wish for their parents to reconcile. Distinguish the fact that you and your ex are still co-parenting partners. While children may still wish for a reunion, setting boundaries will assist. Assure them that “all will be fine once we adjust.”
Be Available And Give Them Time To Adapt
A parent may be concerned about their child’s reaction and tempted to push them to express themselves. Children express their emotions in different ways. Some kids are expressive, while others are reserved and may struggle to adjust. It’s important to know that your child will open up at their own pace and seek your help if you’re available. The best things you can do are (1) listen to your kids and (2) create a safe environment where they feel comfortable talking to you. While you may be confident in their future, they may not yet see it. Restrain your emotions. Help them adjust and heal by modelling your own recovery.
Don’t Do It Right Away
The decision to get a divorce does not come unexpectedly. You and your ex probably both knew that things were not going well and that your relationship was moving in this direction, although you may have made attempts to save the marriage. In most situations, that’s the way it goes – it’s a process and it unwraps itself with the big decision.
Don’t spill the news as soon as you decide to get a divorce. Be with your children together as a family, at least for a day. This will come as a shock to them, so you’ll appreciate the opportunity to give them a few moments of happiness before that.
Prepare a Plan
You can’t just go about telling kids about divorce by saying “we’re getting a divorce!” right out of the blue. You need a plan. It has a lot to do with the way you say it, as well as the timing.
Don’t break the news when your kids are sad, distracted, or tired. Do not tell them during happy moments, such as holidays or birthdays. Choose a good time that brings about the least impact.
What will you say? How are you going to say this? You need to stay calm. The best way to do that is to have the speech planned, or maybe even rehearsed.
All Your Kids Should Be Together When You Tell Them
If you have older children, you may feel that they will have a better understanding of why you and your spouse are divorcing. You may feel comfortable telling them while saving the little one from stress for as long as possible.
You shouldn’t do that.
It’s best to have this conversation when the entire family is together. If you have more than one child, they will be each other’s support system. Don’t take that away by forcing one of them to deal with the pain alone when you tell them not to say anything to their brother or sister.
Don’t Leave the Important Choices to Them
If they are old enough, your kids will want to have a say in this process. They might wish to choose who they will live with. But allowing them to make this choice is very different from allowing them to have a say.
This is a decision that you and your ex-partner should make.
If your kids are younger, it’s even more important to make this decision for them. You should never put them in the middle by asking them who the better parent is.
Expect Reactions and Be Prepared to Deal with Them
Each child will react differently to the news about divorce. Some may briefly cry, but then may act as if they didn’t hear it. Ignoring this fact is their way of thinking things will sort themselves out. Other children may keep changing the subject. They may refuse to listen altogether. Some may be very emotional and won’t stop crying for days. Others won’t show emotion; they will bury it deep inside.
As a parent, you should be prepared for any of these reactions when telling your kids about your divorce. What will you need to do? Be there for your kids. This is the time when they need you the most.