The most dreaded moment in divorce–telling the children. Parents know the news will devastate. They fear making the decision known.
So, some parents put off telling. Bad idea.
Children likely already suspect. Keeping children in suspense only increases their anxiety. More, your children may be filling in the blanks in their own minds about what will happen. Will they have to move? Leave their school? Lose their scholarship?
When children don’t suspect–waiting is even worse. Waiting means children feel blindsided. The process changing their lives has unfolded–largely without them.
Concrete information helps children
- focus on what is real,
- stop fearing what is not, and
- participate in shaping their future.
If at all possible, tell together. Husbands and wives divorce each other–not their children. No one becomes an ex-dad or an ex-mom. When you tell together, you demonstrate to the children that you will still work together as parents.
Use the word “divorce.” Most children desperately seek to reunite their parents. Any ambiguity in the words parents use opens the door for children to avoid the reality.
Something along the lines of “Mommy and Daddy have decided to divorce. We won’t be living together anymore,” makes the situation clear. Which helps children face reality more quickly.
Use the word “we.” Use “we”–even if one of you doesn’t want the divorce. This keeps blame out of the conversation. It protects your children’s relationships with both of you. It helps your children see you as a united front. Invaluable for those future child crises you will tackle together.
Focus on three points–
- We love you.
- We will take care of you.
- This is not your fault.
Repeat these often. They offer the assurances children need most.
- “We love you.” Likely, your children heard you tell each other, “I love you” over and over. Now you are divorcing.
Message to children–love can go away.
They need to hear you say, “I love you” to them. Often. Until they are convinced your love for them is not going away.
And then back your words with actions. Demonstrate your love for them. Every day.
As your actions prove your words, children remain secure in your love.
2. We will take care of you. Children need to know you won’t quit on them. Give specific examples of what you will continue to do, individually and together, to take care of them.
- Attend their ballgames
- Get them to friends birthday parties
- Help them with homework
- Provide two loving, secure homes
- Listen to them–even when they are angry. Even when they are angry with you.
As you work together to care for your children, they come to believe that life can still be good. Even from two houses.
3. This is not your fault. Children believe the world revolves around them. Because they see themselves at the center of everything, they often blame themselves for the split. Parents must make clear, “This is not your fault.”
You don’t have to give details about the reasons for the divorce, but you should take ownership. Something like, “We are deciding to divorce. You didn’t do anything. You didn’t make this happen. You don’t have to fix it. This is our decision.”
Note–You shouldn’t offer, “We don’t love each other any more” as a reason for the divorce. This may be true. But, saying it convinces children you might stop loving them, too.
Instead, say something like, “We have decided to live apart. The reasons are between us. What you need to know is that we will take care of you.”
Answer questions honestly and appropriately. When children ask questions–give the information they need. But, no more. Honesty doesn’t mean telling everything.
- If they ask why you are divorcing–offer, “That’s between us. You just need to know that we are working together to take care of you.”
- “Are we going to move?”–can be answered with “We don’t know yet. As soon as we know–you will know.” As much as possible, invite children’s participation in decisions. If a move becomes necessary, let them pick from the two viable apartments. Paint their new room. Or, choose which stuffed animals go to which house.
- “How will I get to school?”–can be answered with, “You will take the bus from Mom’s on Monday through Wednesday and from Dad’s Thursday through Friday.”
Specific, concrete details related directly to the children’s lives paint a picture children understand. This offers reassurance without overwhelming.
Telling children creates one of the most painful challenges of divorce. Be direct. Be united. Be focused on reassuring them. If you keep your children your top priority–you help ease the transition for everyone.
If you would like more information on negotiating the challenges of divorce, The Resolution Center offers a range of services to assist. Call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com to explore ways we can serve you.