So, you’ve made your decision. You’ve tried everything and have concluded that divorce is the best option for you. Now comes one of the hardest parts: how do you let your children know you’ll get divorced?
This is one of those key moments where how you say things has a huge impact. So first, consider a few things that Ph.D. Lisa Herrick recommends:
- Let them know ahead: it is a must to let them know 2-3 weeks prior to the separation. This way, children will know that the whole family’s dynamic will change soon and prepare. You can explain the plans you have figured out, “Daddy will be moving to a new home, but he’ll drive you to school every morning”. It is not necessary to be extremely detailed, but it’s good to let them know how you expect things will move along on the following weeks.
- Do it together: Even if the marriage is over, parenting is not and this is the start of all the things you’ll need to still do together.
- Be ready for reactions: Of course, it is expected that some children may cry. There may be tantrums. Or children might pretend they did not hear you. As well as you know your children, reactions might vary a lot. Since this is uncharted territory, there is no way of predicting how your children will react, so just try to be honest and loving.
- Give them time to process: this does not only include doing it ahead of time but choosing the right moment. Weekends are especially good moments because children will have enough time to start diving into new emotions, ask questions, and reflect on what this may mean for them and also feel those emotions.
- Let their teachers know previously: They might start to act out in school or behave in an uncharacteristic way.
- Show your emotions: If you get choked up or cry, it’s ok. This is a sad event for the family and you will try to help everyone in the process.
5 Key Messages To Tell Your Children You’re Getting Divorced
Besides all of this, there are 5 key messages to repeat over the next few months, not only during this first conversation:
Neither parent is to blame – Both have worked hard on making it work.
It is not the child’s fault – This might be very evident to you, but it might haunt a child’s mind for months. Make it very clear that this is a decision that adults made. It has nothing to do with anything children might have done or said and cannot be altered by behaving “nicely”.
Love both parents fully – Children can keep on loving both parents without the fear of “betraying” anyone. Herrick makes clear this message is crucial in protecting the kids from pain and maladjustment.
Different feelings are normal – Let children know that this is a new situation that might make them feel a lot of different things, and all of them are valid.
Still a family, just changing – Let them know that you are still their loving parents and no one is going away. They will still be loved as much as they were before, just with a different dynamic.
It’s Fine to Feel What You Are Feeling
After breaking the news, you should expect all manner of reactions. Different children can express whatever they are feeling differently. The most important thing is assuring those feelings as you break the news.
It’s worth noting that children, depending on age, may have a clue about what is happening. Older kids may have “picked” tension in the household and won’t, therefore, be taken by surprise. You should try to be as accommodating as possible to whatever emotion your kids show. The reactions may range from extreme anger to passiveness or emotionless reactions. As you tell your children you are getting divorced, remember to affirm whatever emotion they are feeling.
Even if your child is ok or cold when you expect a different reaction, communicate that you respect whatever emotion they are feeling. Some children don’t know how to express intense emotion and may very well shut down. Communicating that you respect their feelings and are even willing to give them time to process everything.
If your purpose is to be calm when telling your children about your divorce, they will most likely be calm or less anxious. However, don’t stop your children from crying, yelling, retreating to their room, slamming doors, or showing any other feelings. When breaking news about divorce, your child knows best how to react. You should read cues to anticipate reactions and be more worried about controlling your own emotions otherwise, you may not be able to reassure them that things will be fine.
You Can Ask Us Anything
It’s also critical to let your children know they can ask anything. However, don’t pressure them to ask questions. Some kids may want to ask questions immediately while others may just stay silent. You may also get too many questions. Letting your kids know they can ask anything is critical to clear out any immediate concerns they may have. Generally, kids want to know how their lives will change in the short term.
You should expect questions on living arrangements, attending favorite sporting events, moving houses, etc. If you have older kids, you should brace for harder questions. However, you shouldn’t answer questions you don’t want to answer. For instance, you can reply that you are figuring something out and will communicate in due time if you don’t have an immediate answer.
Telling your kids they can ask anything is critical for ensuring you maintain open communication channels. Most importantly, allow questions any time in the future. Some children may take time to understand the repercussions and may not have questions until certain issues face them. Expect to have more questions as the divorce process continues. The first discussion opens doors to dialogue and questions.
There Will Be Some Mistakes
As you assure your kid’s feelings and welcome questions, you should also communicate that there are bound to be hurdles along the way. As the family transitions into another phase, the children should know that parents will try their best to work on routines, keep time, keep promises, etc. but things won’t be perfect.
You shouldn’t give the impression that everything will be perfect. There should be expectations that co-parenting has its challenges, and there are times you may make a promise and be unable to keep it. For instance, kids should know that it is fine to be taken to school by you because your ex is held up somewhere, and such an occurrence doesn’t mean the other parent doesn’t care.
Rules Must be Upheld
You should also let your kids know that the rules stay the same. Just because parents are living apart shouldn’t be mistaken to mean that kids should follow their own routine or lack discipline. You should be clear that you both have similar expectations on bedtimes, homework, and general conduct regardless of which parent is with the kids.
While rules can be hard to enforce in an ex-spouse’s home, there should be a general consensus of what is expected when you announce your divorce to your kids. While some parents may be tempted to be lenient with kids to gain the upper hand, it’s in the best interests of the kid to know that you agree on matters concerning general conduct.
Our #1 Priority Is You
Lastly, it is important to communicate a commitment to the kids. While a divorce comes with new dynamics like separate living arrangements between parents, children should know that both parents are 100% committed to their kids. The roles of a parent must remain the same after divorce, and children must understand this from the onset.
As a result, the custodial parent should keep the absent parent 100% informed about everything happening in the kids’ lives. You should communicate the same to make it clear that the priorities haven’t changed, and kids should expect parents to be involved in their lives completely. To ensure this message sticks, parents should avoid conflict and revisit issues moving forward.
Parents should also do their best to meet every single obligation, from visitation to being involved in activities that matter to their kids. Most importantly, there should be no arguments going forward in front of your children as this may make kids question their parents’ priorities.
In summary, divorce comes with unique challenges. While you battle emotions towards your ex, you have children to raise. Understanding that your children come first and communicating the same to them is a step in the right direction. What’s more, your children should be allowed to ask questions and express themselves. You should also communicate that the process may have mistakes, and old rules of conduct must be upheld.
Telling your children the above will make the process easier and manage expectations. Most importantly, divorce won’t get in the way of you and your ex being great parents.
If you face any challenges breaking the news to your children, seek professional help. A divorce attorney can guide you during the transition phase by recommending good professionals i.e., counselors that can guide your family as you begin co-parenting.
Hopefully, this information will help you in letting your children know about this new phase in the whole family’s life. On this blog, we have resources that will help you take on co-parenting in the best way possible.