Telling Your Children About Divorce
Divorce is stressful under any circumstances. When children are involved, the stakes are even higher and emotions can ramp up. Nonetheless, when dealing with your children during the divorce process, it is important that you remain calm, providing as much stability and consistency as possible. It also is important to consider the effects of your every action on your children and their emotional states and routines.
The following provides some guidance about when and how to speak to your children about your divorce.
When Should I Tell My Children?
It is best to tell your children once you know for sure that you will divorce, when your spouse also knows, and when you can tell the children calmly. Tell your children before they hear it from outsiders. From a personal perspective, you will want to show your natural caring and concern for your children. From a legal perspective, you will want to show that you have the best interests of your children in mind. Included in "best interests" is your ability to help your children have positive relationships with your spouse, regardless of the quality of your own relationship with your spouse.
How Should I Tell My Children?
Given the emotional nature of divorce, it is a good idea to plan what you will say in advance. You may even consider writing down what you want to say. If possible, you and your spouse should tell your children together. This shows your children that you are united in caring for them and that they do not have to take sides, one parent against the other.
It may take your children some time to process what you tell them. Anticipate much repetition. Children, especially younger children, will ask many follow-up questions and need answers repeated. Be receptive and reassuring upon further questioning about the divorce. In addition, you may notice your children acting out, showing emotional outbursts, behavioral changes, and confused loyalties. Be tolerant as your children process their feelings.
What Should I Say to My Children?
When telling your children about the divorce, you will want to find the delicate balance between providing enough information without telling them too much. Consider giving your children the following kind of information when telling them about your divorce:
- Tell your children that the divorce is only between the adults and that nobody is divorcing the children.
- Let your children know that they did not cause the divorce and that both of their parents love them and will continue in their lives.
- Be cautious about sharing any reasons for the divorce. It is best simply to defer the question and say that it is an adult issue, or to say that "your parents couldn't live together anymore." This gives your children permission to continue loving both of you instead of taking sides against a presumed initiator of the divorce.
- Admit your feelings but try to keep your emotions in check as much as possible when in front of your children. It is okay to tell your children that the divorce makes you sad. It is equally important that they not be put into a role of parenting you, an expectation which is age inappropriate and not in your children's best interests.
- Alert the children that some things in their lives will change after the divorce, such as where both parents live, their home part of the time, and perhaps their school. Be specific, if you know specifics. Remind them of things that divorce will not change, such as parental love, siblings, friends, and pets. Children benefit by hearing concrete details and being reassured of family constancy.
- Resist the temptation to disparage your spouse to your children. In the long-run, doing so will cause more harm than good.
Is There Anyone Else I Should Tell?
If your children are school age or in daycare, you may consider telling their teachers or daycare providers, even before your divorce is filed. These are people who see your children often, if not every day, and they will be in a good position to keep an extra eye on your children and provide support. You do not need to go into great detail but can simply say, "My spouse and I will be getting a divorce. Please let me know if my child has behavioral or emotional issues that may be related to this." Be careful in these communications to focus on your children's welfare rather than your desire to malign your spouse or gain sympathy.
While divorce is inherently difficult, you can make it easier for your children with clear communication that keeps their best interests in mind.
Also, learn how to cope with post-divorce parenting challenges: How to Successfully Co-Parent After a Divorce
- Child Custody