How Do I Prepare My Children For Divorce?There are some conversations with our kids that are awkward and even uncomfortable. Some parents find it tricky to navigate, particularly if their parents were shy and embarrassed about it. But if handled correctly, everyone can come through this chat just fine.We are talking about divorce & separation.This is not a task any parent finds easy to undertake. Talking to a child about your impending separation and divorce can be traumatizing, not only for them but for you, too. But it’s your responsibility to tell them without inflicting too much pain and sadness, or at least not worsening it.It can be done; children can come out the other end of this serious conversation feeling less traumatized than we imagine. But that depends on you, mom and dad. It all depends on how you approach this when you do it and whether you keep your remarks as age-appropriate as possible. Little ones are less able to process complicated comments than older kids and teens.In this article, we offer some concrete suggestions for structuring this dialogue. We’ve consulted experts – marriage counsellors and child psychologists – and synthesized their research into a step-by-step guide for parents. Your child won’t sail through this unchanged because the news of impending divorce alters their world profoundly. But you can handle it in such a way that their pain is lessened considerably.If you’re about to sit down with your children and have this talk, consider the following ideas for breaking the news as clearly, briefly and concisely as you possibly can.
- Plan Ahead Of Time What You Will Say
This is one of those conversations that must be planned in advance, rather than just winging it. The topic is too serious and important for that. Sit down together and write an outline of what you intend to say.Keep the notes brief, and don’t seem as though you’re reading from a script when the time comes. And no matter what, no matter how much anger or sorrow you may feel in these circumstances, you’ve got to tell your children together. Doing this presents a united front, signalling to the child that this is a step you’ve decided on together.
- Explain Why This Is Happening
Being vague with statements like “we just aren’t happy” may be met with blank stares. Children don’t usually grasp unclear comments like that. Give them something they can point to – are there constant arguments in the home recently? — and explain that the separation will stop all that.Give them reasons for the divorce they can comprehend. If your children are all of the different ages – five, 10 and 15, for example – let your teen stay behind when the younger children are gone and ask more grown-up questions if they need to. And they probably will. You may even want to speak to them separately, depending on how old they are.
- Try To Recall How You Felt As a child
There is no better way to brace children for bad news than remembering how you were given it as a child. If your parents separated and divorced, remind yourself of how they delivered the news. Did they do it well? Was it more painful than it needed to be? Were they clear about the details, like when it would happen? What matters is that you imagine how you felt receiving bad news when you were young. Be empathetic to that inner child, and use that memory to guide you.
- Don’t Let Blame Infuse Your Tone & Comments
If the divorce is one spouse’s wish but not the other’s, it’s easy for the latter to let hurt and betrayal seep into their voice. It’s natural to feel that way, perhaps, but as a parent, you must keep those feelings private.Accusing your spouse of having an affair in front of your child, for example, is potentially very damaging. Remember: long after the divorce, dust settles, and life carries on – and it will! — your child has to see and spend time with the other parent.Blaming them for the divorce, even subtly, is unhealthy when you do it in front of your children. Save the rants for another time, like when you’re out with friends lamenting the marriage’s collapse.
- Explain The Forthcoming Changes Clearly
Some parents try to assure their kids that nothing is going to change. Unfortunately, that’s untrue, and claiming it may set you up for accusations later on.Explain that the divorce means one of you is moving out. Tell your child where the parent who is leaving will be living and when that move is taking place. Give them as many details about upcoming changes as you can.If there is something you don’t know yet – your new address, for example – tell your child that you’ll inform them as soon as you know. Saying “nothing will change” is simply false, and eventually, your child may feel lied to if you say it in a misguided attempt to reassure them.
- Don’t Talk About Third Parties Yet
Announcing a divorce is big, difficult news for children to absorb. Even if a third party is involved in this decision, now is not the time to explain that to your children. They may suspect it if they’ve overheard grown-up conversations around the issue behind closed doors. But leave this element of your decision out for the moment. Kids can only handle so much bad news in one sitting. There is plenty of time, later on, to introduce a new person into their lives.
- Ask Them If They Have Questions
Most children simply want reassurance that their parents still love them, but if they do want to ask you something, by all means, let them. They may ask how often they will see the departing parent, or whether the family pet is moving out, too. Children come up with questions and concerns that may seem odd to adults, but these queries allow them to handle their new family structure better. Don’t discourage them.
- Give Them Time To Process Their Feelings
Children react in unpredictable ways when their parents announce their intention to divorce. Teens may act like they aren’t upset, saying something like “I saw it coming,” when deep down they are roiling with anger and sadness.Small children may not even understand what’s happening until one spouse moves and they go to a new place for a weekend visit. There is, unfortunately, no guarantee of how your child will react and how long it will take for them to process the news and come to terms with it. Most experts agree that it is only when they see their parents happier apart than together that children begin to relax and accept the new situation. And of course, once they realize that their parents’ love for them has not changed or gone away, they begin to understand they were not to blame. If they are furious at first, let them express their anger.After all, the home and circumstances they’ve relied on their whole lives have just been uprooted and altered. Divorces are sometimes necessary for the health and overall well-being of a family. But that doesn’t mean everyone adjusts to it at the same pace or in the same manner. Let them become accustomed to this profound shift in their own time.
Divorce is no longer uncommon, and parents who choose this path are no longer judged harshly for choosing it. Consequently, your child may well have friends whose parents are divorced, and they will find reassurance and solace there.But for some kids, divorce feels like the world is falling down around them. It is every parent’s responsibility to ensure them it isn’t.Children will eventually adapt to the divorce if they feel loved and supported. And as long as you, the parents, listen to their feelings and help them through the changes, they will cope and come out the other side healthy and happy.If for any reason you feel they are struggling months after you announce your plans to divorce, consider seeking professional help for your child. A therapist can be an objective sounding board who allows your child to express feelings they may be reluctant to share with you.Sooner or later, the whole family will adapt. As long as love is at the centre of your family structure, your children will come to accept and even thrive in the new circumstances, no matter what form those circumstances take.