Many parents in unhappy marriages choose to suffer because they believe they are doing the right thing for the kids. In a previous blog post, we discussed why staying together for the kids isn’t necessarily a good idea. Today’s post is going to be for parents who have accepted that reality and are proceeding with the divorce process. Specifically, we will discuss how to tell your kids that you are divorcing or splitting up.
No two divorce conversations go the same because every family is a little bit different, but if both parents are in the child’s life and can behave amicably, it is a good idea to deliver the news together. We understand that this is a difficult conversation, and we want to offer you ideas of how to handle it delicately. Your kids may respond with complicated feelings, or difficult questions that may not have an easy answer.
Plan What to Say Ahead of Time
It may seem obvious but rehearsing the conversation ahead of time will help – you will likely be less nervous to deliver the news because you had practice, and you will know exactly what you want to say.
We strongly recommend developing a blame-free narrative about the divorce. Even if you feel as though your ex is responsible for your fallout, telling the kids “Mommy/Daddy is leaving us for another man/woman,” is not good for them! It unfairly places them in the middle of disagreements and discussions that should only be between the two of you. In this blame-free narrative, it is also good to plan to tell the kids that it is not their fault, as children can often blame themselves for the splitting of their parents.
Your kids will likely ask why this is happening, so we recommend being prepared with a general explanation that still adheres to the blame-free narrative. It can be as short and simple as the following options:
“While we like each other as friends, we don’t love each other that way anymore. However, we love you very much!”
“We decided that we both might be happier living apart.”
“We both decided that we wanted futures that looked different.”
It is a good idea to transparently state that you will no longer be living together, and which parent is leaving the home, this way there is no room for confusion about the changes that are happening. Be prepared to reassure them that there was nothing that could have prevented this, and that everything will be okay. Avoid making large promises about the unknown, as much about the future can change. Then, be prepared for reactions and questions from the kids.
Common Responses from Children
Not all kids will react the same way.
Some children may be afraid to tell you how they’re feeling or ask questions because they are afraid to hurt your feelings. This type of behavior should be met with reassurance that there is no wrong reaction, and that they don’t need to worry about your feelings. After all, your children aren’t responsible for your feelings.
Your children may be upset; sadness, anger, and guilt are all normal reactions. Your kids will need lots of reassurance that it is not their fault, and there was nothing they could have done to prevent this. In this conversation, it is important to acknowledge their feelings verbally, so they know they are being heard, and that their emotions are important. Physical affection from both parents at this point can also help with these emotions- your kids may want hugs, or to sit next to you with your arm around them.
Expect this to be an ongoing conversation. Your kid will have good days where they are at peace with the breakup, but they might also have bad days where they don’t understand why the breakup had to happen, and days where they will extra reassurance and affection. As time progresses, they may have new questions about the breakup that they didn’t previously have.
This is a time where they need you to have extra patience with them and engage in comforting practices and habits. We encourage you to be prepared to answer different questions as time progresses and be prepared to offer extra love and nurturing in this time.
Clearly, this isn’t an easy conversation to have, but we hope we helped you understand what to say, and how to say it. If you think a divorce or custody discussion may be in your future, give us a call and we will be more than happy to help!