Although going through a divorce is going to be difficult for every member of your family, it is very common for your kids to take the news the hardest and to need the most time to come to grips with the reality of what is happening. While there is likely nothing that you can do to make things seem totally ‘okay’ or ‘normal’ during a divorce, there are strategies you can use when explaining the situation to your children to make this whole process seem less daunting and traumatic. Every family is different, as is every child, so there is no ‘right way’ to talk to your children about your divorce. However, we have a few suggestions and things to keep in mind when approaching the subject:
Keep it Simple and Factual
Whether your child is a toddler or in high school, keep your communication simple and straightforward. They do not need to be dragged through the mud on all of the details leading up to your divorce. Tell them the information that they need to know and that is relevant to them, don’t give them the entire backstory of how your marriage deteriorated over time. This can make them feel as if they played a role in the splitting up of their parents when in reality this is between you and your spouse. It is especially key to ensure you are not placing blame on the other parent or criticizing them. Even if not your intention, this can make the child think they need to take sides. Remember, your kids are “one-half” your ex, if you make them feel like something is wrong with their other parent, they can internalize it and therefore think something is wrong with them.
Be Unified in Your Approach
If possible and practical (which often, it may not be), discuss your divorce with your ex-spouse physically present. This will present a unified front to your children and show them that although things will be changing, you are both still there, are still their parents, and can still make and follow through on decisions together. It’s important to act and present yourselves like the responsible, capable adults that you were before the split in order to reaffirm to your children that their reality hasn’t been turned upside down. Remind them you love and adore them and don’t expect them to compartmentalize their lives — meaning, they might now have two homes but still one life — they are encouraged to celebrate BOTH parents without fear that the other might have hurt feelings or resentment.
Related: Create Your Own Co-Parenting Plan
Encourage Your Children to Share Their Feelings
While yes, you are the one bringing new and consequential information to the table, you shouldn’t be doing all of the talking when explaining this situation to your children. Your children may have a lot of questions as well as initial reactions. Listen to these and reassure them that it is okay to feel the way they currently do. Be supportive and let them know that you are going to get through this together. This includes checking with them periodically to see how they are doing and to ask if they have any questions. For young children, we often suggest that you include them in setting up their new room or home — making it exciting as opposed to upsetting. That being said, they still might be sad and sad is OK — it’s just one step in a journey that will make them more resilient and more bonded to you.
Avoid Letting Your Own Emotions Drive the Conversation
Your children will look to you for cues about how to react to the situation. If they see you getting emotional, it may worsen things for them or even frighten them. Avoid exacerbating what will already be a hard situation, and do your best to remain calm and reassuring when explaining.
Although a lot will be changing, you are both still their parents and love them and that will never change. Make sure they know that. Do not involve them any more than they need to be in the divorce. This can be a scary time for children and it can feel like the world as they knew it is gone for good. Reassure them that this is not the case and that in the end, things will be alright.