While always painful, coming to the decision to divorce also often brings couples relief. The finality opens opportunity for you to work toward something better. Then, the next hurdle hits.
How do we tell the children about our divorce?
Statistics clearly demonstrate that divorce puts children at risk. The old narrative that children simply bounce back has been destroyed by real stories of broken lives. What creates the damage?
Children’s security lies squarely in their parents’ marriage. If you’ve decided to divorce, it’s important to understand this so you can work together to create a new base of security for your children. Your children’s new security will come from how you work together during and after the divorce. As you join forces to care for them, you ensure that your children will survive and even thrive in the midst of divorce.
You set the stage for this healthy adjustment with how you tell children you are divorcing.
Communicate your decision together.
Couples can divorce each other as spouses–but never as parents.
No matter what the next stage brings, children need their parents to work together. Working together begins with planning when, how, and what you will tell the children. Then, plan a time you can tell the children–together
The united front for giving this news concretely demonstrates that parents will continue working together later.
- Own the decision. Children inevitably assume they caused the divorce. Their misbehavior. Their poor grades in school. Their fighting. Right up front, parents should frame the decision to divorce as parents’ decision. “We have decided that we are going to divorce (or, for younger children, Mommy and Daddy won’t live together any more). This is not your fault. You didn’t do anything to cause this. This is our decision.” Avoid phrases such as “we don’t love each other anymore.” Even if true, this confuses children. If you can stop loving each other, you can stop loving them. Instead, simply repeat that this is your choice. If they ask why, simply say that the decision is between the two of you and the reasons will stay between the two of you.
Outline the changes.
Divorce impacts every area of life, for adults and children. Parents likely fear coming changes. That fear can tempt parents to avoid addressing them with children. This leaves children feeling confused and an outsider to their own life.
Instead, offer the answers you can.
Children will want to know where they will live. If they will change schools. Whether they will see their friends.
In outlining what to say, try to anticipate your children’s questions and script the answers you do know.
If answers are unknown, be honest. “We don’t know. But, we are working together to figure it out and make sure we take care of you. As soon as we know, you will know.”
Say out loud, “We love you. We will take care of you.”
Children grieve deeply the loss of the source of their security, their parents’ marriage. Their home. Their way of life. Most of all they grieve the loss of the assurance that love lasts.
Children need to hear parents say out loud and repeatedly, “I love you.” Then, parents need to back that statement with actions.
Your children need you to physically show up for parenting time, for games, and for special events.
They need you to emotionally support them in processing their grief about the divorce.
They need you to honor each other so they are free to openly love and relate to both of you.
All of these actions demonstrate real love. As children experience these tangible expressions of your love, they come to trust that you will continue to be a source of security from separate houses.
Telling the children will never be easy. But, it can be healthy. If parents work together and address children’s key fears.
If you would like help to create a healthier divorce, please call The Resolution Center at 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We are ready to serve you.