One of the toughest parts of the divorce process can be breaking the news to children. No matter how difficult the marriage has been for the adults, the children have likely been sheltered from most of the turmoil. They are used to a one-home, two-parent family and that will change after divorce. Knowing the impact of divorce on the children’s lives the question is, “What’s the best way to tell the kids about divorce?”
The most common piece of advice is telling your kid about divorce together. “Ideally, parents should break the news as a team. Telling your child together avoids confusion — he’ll hear only one version of the story — and conveys that it was a mutual decision,” wrote Ziba Kashef, in the article, “How to tell your child you’re getting divorced.”
The Huffington Post article, “9 Things to Consider Before Telling Your Kids About the Divorce,” advises writing down what you want to say and working out the ground rules. “Agree that neither of you will blame the other, you won’t fight with each other, and you won’t pressure the kids to choose sides.”
Experts also advise choosing the time carefully. Wait until you have details before telling the kids. The timing depends on the age of the child. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, you might tell them just a couple of days before one party moves out of the house. They don’t need as much processing time as older kids. For grade-school children, a week or two is suggested. They will want time to talk to friends and coaches if their schedule will change. Adolescents and teens may need two weeks or more. Their questions may be more thoughtful. They will want to know more than the basics of where they will live. They may seem more concerned about their friends than their family.
During this time, let teachers, baby-sitters, coaches and their friends’ parents know about the break-up. They will extend the circle of support and sensitivity and may help you look out for unusual behavior that could signal that the child is having a tough time coping.
Make certain you’re certain. Don’t tell the kids you’re “thinking about divorce”, it might send the message that you’re not sure about the split. “At this age, a child might also try to figure out how to make a reconciliation happen or reduce tension between parents,” writes Kashef.
It may seem obvious, but choose a relaxed occasion when there will be plenty of time to talk. Avoid spilling the news the morning before a test, game or concert when they may already be anxious.
Be as concrete as possible. Kids will want to know where they will be living and going to school. They will have questions about their activities, friends and pets. Be prepared to reassure them that you will both do your best to maintain the routines they are used to. At the same time though, be honest and set-up reasonable expectations. As much as you would love to make them feel better by promising that nothing will change, it’s unreasonable. Making false promises will eventually erode their trust at a time when it may be fragile.
Reinforce to your kids that the divorce is not their fault. “Tell him flat out that the divorce is an adult decision and has nothing to do with him,” according to Kashef.
As an adult matter, keep the kids out of the actual legal and financial negotiations of divorce.
Kids do not need to know who was at fault. If there was infidelity involved, you may not trust your spouse but the kids did not experience the same betrayal. Remember that the adult emotions and interactions that motivated your spouse to cheat do not apply to the kids. Unless there were unusual circumstances such as abuse, you will be sharing custody and/or visitation time. Although, you may want to hurt your ex-spouse for having wronged you, you don’t want to hurt your kids in the process. Convincing them that the other parent is “bad” takes away the security they feel when they are in the other spouse’s care. Attempts to brainwash kids into disliking the other parent may be read as vengeful, vindictive behavior on your part. Even young children can perceive “meanness” and may turn against Mommy for being mean to Daddy.
It is ok, however, to let the kids know that you are hurting. It’s natural and human to demonstrate sadness. “It’s okay let your kids see that you’re sad about the breakup. But don’t put them in a position of having to comfort you. It’s your job to comfort them,” wrote Brott.
Once the news has been delivered, the best thing you can do is reassure your child continually and consistently that he or she is loved by both parents and that will never change, no matter what the living arrangements may be.
BabyCenter. Expert Advice, “How to tell your child you’re getting divorced,” Ziba Kashef. http://www.babycenter.com/0_how-to-tell-your-child-youre-getting-divorced_3657051.bc
The Huffington Post, “9 Things to Consider Before Telling Your Kids About the Divorce,” Armin Brott, July 24, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/26/what-you-need-to-know-bef_0_n_5615228.html