How to Tell Your Children about Your Divorce
Perhaps one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have is telling your children that you and your spouse are getting a divorce. No doubt you want to do your best to minimize their pain and confusion, but no matter how carefully you put it, the news is going to be devastating.
What you say in this first conversation will set a framework for how your children view the divorce, how it will affect them, and how you and your spouse intend to behave during the process of the divorce. Because this is such an important conversation, it needs to be thought through in advance and planned carefully. You will need to be able to handle your own feelings, and also be prepared to answer your children’s questions and concerns.
Telling the Children about the Divorce
Pick a time when you can be free of interruptions for as long as it takes. If you can, include your spouse in the discussion, but agree ahead of time what you will say, what you will not say, and the ultimate goal of the conversation. Let the children know that you have something important to discuss. Try to speak in terms of “we” rather than “I” or “your father.” For instance, “We have something important to tell you. Dad and I (or Mom and I) are getting a divorce, and will be living in two separate homes.”
Give a brief explanation that is honest, avoids blaming the other spouse, and is age appropriate. You can say that you have not been able to get along as husband and wife, and think you can both be better people and parents if you are not living together. You can tell them that the two of you have not been able to resolve some serious problems in the marriage. But you don’t need to go into specifics of what those problems are, and should not assign blame.
Understanding Your Children’s Feelings about the Divorce
It is very important to communicate clearly that the divorce is not the children’s fault. Your children need to know that they did not cause the divorce, and there is nothing they could have done to fix the problems. You should stress that the divorce is because of adult problems between Mom and Dad.
Be prepared to ask your children if they have any questions, and answer them as honestly as you can, maintaining age-appropriate boundaries. It is also okay to say that you do not know the answer to a question, and that you too are trying to figure things out. They may express strong feelings, or you may need to ask them what they are feeling. Be ready for their strong emotions, and do your best to accept and validate them. Your children need to get the message loud and clear that you are in their corner, safe to talk to, and will help them through this process.
Reassuring Your Children Regarding your Divorce
Let your children know what things will change. Children need to know what will happen to them. You can tell them that your spouse will be moving out, and give them the approximate time frame. Tell them that some days they will be with you, and some days at your spouse’s home. If you both will be moving, it is important to give your children as much advance notice as possible. Assure younger children that their clothes and toys will be moving with them.
Stress that many things will stay the same, for instance, their schools, extracurricular activities, proximity to friends, etc. Highlighting these things will help your children feel more secure during this time.
Most of all, children need to know that both you and your ex will always love them, and will always be there for them even though you are no longer together.
Telling your children about your divorce can be a very emotional time for all of you. Take the time to plan the conversation in advance, include your spouse in it if possible, and put your own emotions aside during the discussion as much as you can.
A well-planned conversation will help your children to eventually understand and accept the divorce. It will also help them know that they will be secure and protected, and that ultimately, they, you and your spouse will be okay.