Statistically about 50% of marriages will end in divorce. Even though you didn’t start your marriage thinking this would happen to you, here you are and your happily ever after has come to an end. You’ve tried everything you could to make it work. But all efforts point to the same result: life as a couple is not working for you and your spouse anymore. Now that you two have decided to take the next step, the worst part is yet to come….telling your children about it.
At this point most parents would prefer to “just pretend” that things are ok so they don’t have to disappoint their children. They’re worried about scarring their children for life and that their children will hate them. It is very scary to face your children and tell them you can’t make it as a couple anymore.
Instead of avoiding the conversation until your children are off to college, start to plan for the announcement with these six tips:
6 Tips to Talk to Your Children About Your Divorce
1) It’s not their fault: First and foremost make sure your children know that the divorce is a decision you two as a couple made and it is not because of them. It is very common for kids to believe that if they “just behaved better” the parents would not be getting a divorce. This happens because kids still have a self-centered perspective of life. That means they see things as directly related and caused by them. Repeat to them as often as needed that it is not their fault.
2) Be honest: Children don’t need to know everything that is happening, but they deserve the truth. Don’t make up stories that you won’t be able to remember later, otherwise you risk your children feeling lied and hurt by you. Keep it simple and age-appropriate. If the reasons for divorce are too complicated or hurtful, such as an affair, choose an approximation of the truth. A good example is “we don’t agree on decisions anymore” or “we can’t get along anymore”.
3) Answer your children’s questions: Your children will be feelings upset, hurt and confused. They will have many questions, some that make sense and others that don’t. Be prepared to answer this questions with a gentle affirmation that the decision is yours to make. Reinforce that, as painful as it is, the decision is made and won’t change (kids will try to change your mind). Also make sure they understand that you will continue to be part of their lives.
4) Be a united front: Even during a divorce you and your spouse need to show the kids that you can still handle this parenting thing together. Leave resentment toward each other outside the door. Show your children that you two agreed on what is best for them. Present the new living arrangements together and ask for feedback if appropriate.
5) Keep their routine as close to normal as possible: Especially at first try to minimize the impact by keeping some normalcy in their lives. Children thrive on routine and boundaries. Maintain daily activities as close to “normal” as possible. In the first weeks make arrangements at work to support a smooth transition.
6) Don’t try to compensate: You might be feeling guilty for putting your kids through this pain. However, don’t overcompensate by buying gifts and being lenient. Give your children some extra love by listening to them, reassuring your love and giving them space to grieve. Model a healthy response to the divorce.
Expect that this process will be hard for everyone not just the kids. Seek out support from family and friends to stay strong. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, nutrition and exercise. Pay attention to signs of distress from your children, such as depression and anxiety. You might need to address it with professional help. Take your time during this process to attend to everyone’s needs until a new normal can be established. Children are more resilient than we think.
About the author: Patricia Cochran is a marriage counselor with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She is passionate about helping couples and families to feel connected again. In her spare time, she is busy with her toddler and enjoying friends and family time.