Divorce is already a complex and intricate process. Now add children into the equation. It becomes that much more layered because the divorce shifts to not just being about you and your ex reaching an equitable solution as you part ways, but about creating the best possible environment for your children to grow up in going forward.
The first step toward creating a stable atmosphere e for your children involves how you and your spouse tell your children you’re getting a divorce. Because divorce is so life-changing for everyone involved, you must handle this conversation with great care, even in the best of circumstances. The foundation you lay now will directly impact how your children fare through your divorce and for years to come.
As they say, it’s all in the delivery. Here are a few tips to get the conversation started.
Tell Your Children You’re Getting A Divorce Together
When it comes to telling your children about your divorce, it doesn’t matter to what extent you and your ex harbor ill-will for each other. Or if your decision to divorce, as well as the impetus, are mutual.
You don’t want to make your children feel as though their family is in the process of being ripped apart; instead, it would be more beneficial for them to believe in the notion that their family is just changing.
By putting aside your conflicts, you will send a clear message. Namely, you and your ex are committing to working together as co-parents. Therefore, it would make sense to express that your decision to divorce is mutual, even if it’s not, along with the concept that you and your ex are still a team as their parents.
Not only will the children benefit from this message, but a judge or mediator could interpret your cooperation with your ex favorably, which can affect other aspects of your divorce, including how much parenting time you receive and where you must live.
Keep The Conversation Positive When You Tell Your Children You’re Getting A Divorce
When telling your children about the divorce, it’s necessary to discern what information is appropriate to say to your children and what isn’t. Especially in the case of a divorce caused by infidelity or abuse, airing these adult matters to your children too soon or at all could confuse them, or worse still, poison their minds against one of their parents.
It may be tempting to tell your children of your ex’s misdoings, especially if you feel wronged. However, a judge could interpret your words as manipulative, with you using your children as pawns against your ex. Remind yourself that your ex as a spouse is not the same as your ex as a parent. He or she may have been a terrible spouse, but an excellent parent, and painting your ex in a bad light to your children could confuse and harm them emotionally.
Instead, present a positive picture to your children when telling them about the divorce. Examples could be: “It’s not your fault Mom and Dad had issues we simply couldn’t resolve,” or “Mom and Dad will always love you as much as we do now and will always be here for you.” Or, of course, you could use the infamous, “Now you get to have two birthday celebrations,” which might sound trite at first but is often true. The bottom line is to stay mindful of your children, given the news they are receiving and their age.
Be Patient When You Tell Your Children You’re Getting A Divorce
Like anyone who hears major life-altering news, children will need time to process the information. You know your children best, so you may be able to predict how they will react. But in reality, you will not know for sure until the news is out in the open. Your children may explode and storm away to their rooms or not react at all. Read their body language after hearing the information to determine if they need physical affection, like a hug or space, or time to cool off. Or if they could benefit from a mental health professional, like a child psychologist, to help them adjust. Usually, they could.
Especially with younger children, they tend to think of the world in terms of themselves only, meaning that they are naturally self-centered. When hearing of your divorce, they may not be concerned with the divorce’s complexities or how it will impact the family dynamic overall. Instead, they may want to know about logistical issues affecting just them, including if they will need to move schools or attend sports practice after school tomorrow.
You will also find that this will not be the last time you talk about your divorce with your kids. As the divorce process unfolds and your children continue to process their changing living situation, they will have questions for both you and your ex, which can run the gamut. The questions can get tough.
Regardless, be patient with your children and willing to answer questions as honestly and openly as you can. It’s also OK to tell your kids you don’t know if you don’t have an immediate response, reassuring them that you will keep them involved in any new developments that affect them.
Most importantly, let your children know that this is the beginning of the conversation about your lives after your divorce, not the end. And that they, and their input, are always welcome.
Be Open About The Reasons For Divorce
While it isn’t advisable to get into specifics about your divorce, your children deserve to know why things are changing. Some kids (older kids) can press for more information to understand the dynamics of their lives.
So, plan to give reasons even if you don’t share personal details. Examples of reasons you can give include; “we want different things going forward” or we love and respect each other but want to be friends moving forward”. You could also say co-parenting is the best way of moving the family past a serious problem.
You can mention that you have been faced with grown-up problems that your kids can’t understand at the moment. Since every parent understands their kids, the importance of giving satisfactory reasons can’t be overemphasized. If your kids keep demanding more information, you can be firm about sharing details at a time in the future. Most importantly, your kids need a reason/s for divorce and it needs to make some sense to them.
Tell Your Children About New Changes & What Stays The Same
Young kids usually think of themselves first and can be more concerned about how the divorce will affect their lives. As a result, plan to let them know what changes there will be. If your kids will stay with one parent, let them know. If they must change school, you need to tell them. Parents should avoid drastic changes since kids hate moving away from schools and friends they love.
However, if they must change schools, plan to make it worthwhile. Think about their interests when planning for changes. The idea is to change very few aspects of their lives negatively to make divorce as painless as possible. As parents, you should purpose to help your kids prepare for any changes. Most importantly, be honest about details you don’t know concerning new changes. Reassurance is also important. For instance, it is critical to let them know that a parent’s love for their kids doesn’t change. Be clear on any new timelines for family time or spending time with both parents.
Most importantly, changes should be well thought out and compromised in the best interest of children.
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Parents should also allow questions. If you tell your children you are getting divorced, explain the changes, and be open. Your children may have questions. Some kids may not ask any questions. If that’s the case, don’t pressure them. If they have questions, prepare to answer them and offer honest well thought out responses.
If you lack answers at the moment, say so. Questions are important for understanding if you have broken the news down as you should. As mentioned above, both parents should present a united front when telling their kids they are getting divorced. If that’s not clear from the questions your children are asking, it’s time to clarify issues. Also, let your kids know they can reach out and ask any questions when they want.
Consider Your Children’s Age When Breaking the News
Your children’s age should be a significant consideration when breaking the news. Babies and toddlers who are overly dependent on their parents and have no way of understanding complex issues should not be told about divorce in the same exact manner as preschoolers or teenagers. A preschooler may be dependent on their parents but has more developed feelings and a better understanding of the world. You may not need to address divorce immediately to a toddler who may momentarily forget a parent’s presence.
However, a preschooler may need some explanations on how their life will be affected. Since preschoolers tend to think more about themselves and are still understanding their world, they can be given scanty information on how divorce may affect their world. Teenagers need more detail on how divorce will affect their schooling, friends, hobbies, etc.
If you have children in different age groups, you should consider breaking the news to each child separately based on their own level of understanding and interest. Young children can develop incorrect ideas about divorce, its effect, and causes. Understanding the cognitive abilities of children by age should guide all communication. Parents should also watch for signs of distress and emotional instability and plan for the same.