For many kids, their parents’ divorce may come as no surprise. Children are pretty observant, whether you and your spouse are openly arguing, not communicating at all, or giving off vibes of dislike and disgust. Nevertheless, the finality of hearing, “We’re getting a divorce,” from your mouths can be gut-wrenching to a child, no matter their age.
Telling the kids you’re getting a divorce isn’t easy, and it’s a conversation that any parent dreads. Take the time to practice your delivery and prepare yourself for a variety of responses – and questions – from your children.
1. Manage Your Own Emotions
Divorce can make you feel out of control in so many ways, and you no doubt spend many of your days trying to keep your wits together to spare your kids from the anger, resentment, sadness, and frustration you feel. Make sure those emotions are completely in check when you break the divorce news to your kids so you can allow them the room to feel what they need to feel. Listen to their responses, acknowledge their feelings, and accept how they feel. Be as even-keeled as you can possibly be for the sake of your children so they can manage their own emotions and not be consumed by your tears or worries. Let them know everything is under control and that you are both there for them. How you respond in this moment will set the stage for the relationship you have with your children from here on out.
2. Choose a Neutral Location
When the time comes to break the divorce news to your children, be strategic about where you choose to deliver this information. Your children will forever remember this moment so you’ll want to avoid doing it at a time or place that’s particularly meaningful to them. Avoid breaking the news close to birthdays or major holidays. Don’t choose an especially happy moment in the hopes that their joy over something else – an exceptional grade, a team win – will cancel out the heartbreaking news of divorce. And don’t corner them in the car or in an area where they have no opportunity to get away and begin processing this information on their own. At home is usually the best place to talk about divorce – at least your children can escape to their rooms.
3. Give Them Answers
Some children may respond to their parents’ divorce news with silence. Others may have more questions than you can possibly answer. Do not mistake the former response as disinterest and do not believe the latter response to be acceptance. Every child is different – as you very well know by now – and their processing of this news will manifest in various ways. Don’t lie. Don’t put them off. Be as honest as you possibly can and explain what’s happening as simply as possible. Your children needn’t be bogged down with the financial details or settlement concerns, but they’re going to want answers to questions like: Where am I going to live? Are we keeping the house? Does this mean we won’t see both of you on Christmas? Will I still go to the same school?
Whatever areas of the divorce affect your children, talk to them about it. You will have to make the big decisions yourself concerning parenting time and child custody so that you can do what’s best for your family. In many ways, your children will have to concede to your choices, so be understanding if they rebel, argue, or spew hate. Be prepared too for tears, depression, or anxiety. Above all, don’t drop the divorce news on your children then go about your daily lives as though nothing has changed. Check in with your children regularly to make sure they’re managing, and get them help if they’re not