By: Tess Worrell
If the decision to divorce looms, priority one–tell the children. Soon.
Parents often postpone telling their children, believing children will do better if parents have answers to all the questions children could raise. So, they wait. In the meantime, they wonder why their children are misbehaving at school and clinging at home.
Rather than ride out the melt-downs, parents need to have a heart-to-heart with their children. Even if children are only toddlers. Why?
- Children know. Though parents often believe they are hiding problems from their children, they aren’t. Children know something is up. They sense the tension. They see the anger. They experience the growing distance.
- Children fill in the blanks. When people know something is going on but not what, they create their own version. Often, a version far worse than reality.
- Children take responsibility. Children are born egocentric. Everything, literally everything, is about them and because of them. So. . . . .the tension, . . . .the anger. . .the growing distance…it must be something they did.
All this leaves children feeling threatened. Especially when parents consistently deny the reality children experience. Children know something is wrong–but parents contend everything is fine. Children learn they either can’t trust their parents, or they can’t trust themselves. That dissonance makes them feel crazy. Vulnerable. Abandoned.
The exact opposite of the protection parents hoped to provide.
Instead–talk to your children. Now. Together.
You don’t have to give the whole story. You don’t have to have all the answers. Simply offer something like:
- Mommy and Daddy are having some trouble right now. We are talking with people to get help, so we are gone a lot. And, we are distracted a lot.
- It’s NOT your fault. This is between Mommy and Daddy.
- We love you. We are going to take care of you.
Then, as honestly but briefly as you can, answer their questions. Some questions to expect:
- “Are you going to get a divorce?” If you know the answer is yes–say that. “Yes, we are divorcing. We haven’t decided everything, but we will tell you as we do.” Or, “We don’t know. We are talking with people to see what to do. We do know we will take care of you, no matter what.”
- Where will I live?
- Who will take care of me?
Together create very simple, honest answers to address your children’s concerns. The primary message in every response: “We love you. We will take care of you.”
Despite the potentially huge gap between you–be a team on this. You are still parents, and you still need each other to get this job done. More, your children need both of you. Refuse to force children to take sides by statements such as, “I don’t want the divorce, but Mommy/Daddy does.” That issue is between you. Keep it there. With the children–be a team that will care for them, no matter what.
If divorce is looming, the time to talk to the children is now. You don’t have to give the whole fruit basket. Just honest, simple answers that create consistency between the reality they experience and the messages you send. Messages that assure: We love you. We will take care of you. No matter what.