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 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.