Kids & Divorce: The Big Talk
How do we talk to our kids about the divorce? This is a question that thoughtful parents all over the world consistently ask and need a concrete answer to. Divorce is not something your children choose or have a say in. It is something that happens to them. Just as you deserve respect, attention, and patience in your own healing process, your children deserve the same in helping them to process this life-changing event. The most important message in this blog post is that HOW you tell your children that you are getting divorced is extremely important. All involved will be well-served by you and your about-to-be-ex-spouse pausing at this juncture and planning ahead for this moment of truth. It requires maturity, over-looking your differences, and rising above your current emotional hurricane to be as present as you can be for your children.
My recommendation here represents an ideal situation. Do the best you can with what you have. Allow the information below to serve as a guideline and attempt to include as many of these factors as possible for the sake of your children. This is one of the hardest conversations you will ever have with your children. Give yourself support and ask for help when you need it.
Make a plan
Discuss ahead of time and agree to the best of your ability what your time-sharing arrangement will be and where you are each going to live. If one of you is moving out, it is ideal if you already have a place picked out and ready to show your kids should they ask to see it. Discuss these guidelines and any other resources you have about talking to children about divorce. Decide who is going to speak and what you are going to say. Write it out if it helps. The more clear and concise you can be with your message, the better you will feel and the less your children will have to weed through to understand what you are telling them. Knowing that their parents have a plan helps kids to feel safe because they can rest in the assurance that the adults in their life are in charge.
Decide when and where you will tell them
Once a separation date has been decided on, set a date somewhere between 1 week and 1 month ahead of time to sit down with your children. This time frame depends on the age of your children and how well they tend to deal with change. This is where you need to use your discretion. Tell them in a private setting so that they are free to express whatever emotions come up. Make sure that you all are free of distractions and will not be interrupted for at least a few hours. Do not have this conversation on the way to school or just before bed. A weekend morning or afternoon is ideal, but again, do the best you can here.
Tell them together
You are both still their parents. Ideally, they are not losing either of you as their parent. Thus, this message of change needs to come with both of you present. This is one of many times to come where you have to put aside your conflicts, hurts, and disagreements and place your children at the forefront. Actually, this conversation marks that transitional moment where you move from marital partners to co-parents. This is all about your children now and making decisions that rise above what didn’t work between you as a married couple.
Important messages to include in your talk
- Emphasize that you are still a family, but will now look different and have two houses.
- Remind them that the divorce is not their fault and clearly explain that this is a decision made by both of you and that nothing they have done or will do made it happen or can change it. You don’t need to divulge all of the details regarding “why” and never blame the other parent for the divorce. No matter how this decision came about, own that you both ultimately are agreeing to this decision. Do not burden your children with your hurt, because no matter how you feel, they still love both of you and should not need to choose who deserves their love.
- Inform them specifically how their lives will and won’t change and what they can expect. Where they will live, when they see each parent, and what school they will attend. If you have a new place picked out, invite them to visit it when they are ready. Pace this information, but have it available should they ask about it. For example, often with younger children who may not have a good sense of time, having a calendar available to show them exactly how many days there are between seeing Mommy or Daddy is helpful, rather than them having to figure out the concept of “every other weekend.”
Invite questions & validate their emotions
Invite them to ask any questions that they may have. They may surprise you with what they want to know. Allow room for them to have whatever emotions come up and validate those emotions. Let them know that you understand this is hard and they may need time to process and understand it. Let them know that you are both here for them to talk about it anytime they wish.
Hold it together
Try to contain your emotions as best you can so that your children see that you are there for them. Its okay to state that you are sad or scared too, but don’t put your children in a position to have to console you in their moment. Its okay to cry, this is so emotional, but let them know that you know how to take care of yourself and you are in charge of your emotions. Remind them that you are here for them.
Some children process emotional information differently than others. They may take it in at first and then a week later have an emotional meltdown. Be prepared for anything. However, when this conversation is over and all questions have been answered, let them know that you all still have lives to live and its okay to keep doing that. Allow life to return to a normal rhythm (ie: give them permission to go about their day rather than feel like they have to stay stuck in sadness, etc.).
Keep the lines of communication open
Periodically, ask your kids how they are dealing with these life changes. Give them permission to talk to you about it and even to say they don’t like it. Keep telling them the truth of what is happening and the reality that you are not getting back together. But whatever they feel are their feelings, which are valid and important. Books can be helpful at this time. Reading them to younger children helps them to process their feelings and emotions about it. Providing books for tweens and teens gives them a way to relate and deal with understanding this transition.
Here are the books I frequently recommend to parents going through a divorce. They can all be found on Amazon or at your local bookstore.
Mom’s House, Dad’s House by: Isolina Ricci
How to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce, The Sandcastles Way by: Gary Neuman
Its Not Your Fault Coco Bear
Standing On My Own Two Feet
Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Teens by: Isolina Ricci