How to Talk to Kids About Divorce
The D-word: Divorce. It can be messy. It’s definitely difficult. And it can tear families apart.
Yet, it can also work to bring your family closer together. Trust me on this one - I’m coming from a family with divorced parents. And surprisingly today, we are one tight-knit group (and I’m not going to lie, the circumstances of my parents’ divorce were messy and it took a while, but we got through it - as a family). It was a curveball, but one, oddly enough, that I’m glad happened. None of us would be who we are today without it.
And divorce doesn’t just take a toll on the couple involved. It also greatly impacts your kids.
Yes, it might depend on the divorce circumstances. For example, if they soon uncover a cheating spouse is the cause, resentment and confusion may result. But chances are, your kids will have questions. In their eyes, their family is falling apart. Their world will never be the same.
They might ask, why? Where is mom or dad going to live? Is it my fault? Will I have to change schools? What if I don’t want you guys to get a divorce?
The best course of action is, of course, honesty. Divorce isn’t exactly a mystery in today’s society. 40-50% of marriages end in divorce. It’s striking since a lot of us go into a marriage thinking it will last forever. After all, isn’t that more or less the point? Not exactly. Marriage and the way we value and think about marriage is changing. Many people are even opting to not get married.
However, at one point in time, you likely saw this person as your forever - the person you would spend the rest of your life with. And that’s okay. People change. People grow apart. It is the world we live in. You will get through this. Plus, great things came out of your marriage - just look at your kids.
So, how can you make this time easier for your family? How should you breach the topic of divorce with your children?
First, Discuss it With Your Ex-Partner
No matter what the circumstances, your kids come first. You might hate the other person right now. For your kids, put those feelings aside - just for a moment. The conversation will be difficult. But the best thing you can do is present unity when telling your kids. You are still a family - just a different kind of family know. Let them know that.
And let’s double down on this: This conversation isn’t about you and your ex. It’s about telling your kids you’re getting a divorce. Do not argue in front of them, or show any bitterness or anger. Just explain. Let them know that you are both still their parents, no matter what.
Sitting down with your ex and formally discussing what you will say is a good idea. It protects the mental health care of your children, as well as looks out for their well-being. It’s not an easy transition, but you can make it as smooth as possible for them. Plan out what you will say.
Then, Sit Down With Your Whole Family
Let your kids know you both love them. Let them know it isn’t their fault, but yours. Don’t allow them to take that burden upon themselves.
However, if you fear an older child may act out upon telling them the news and ultimately, it may impact the younger children, telling them separately may be best. You know your family, so decide what is best for them.
Prepare For Their Reaction
Different kids may react differently. The circumstances also greatly influence how your children will respond. If you and your spouse have been fighting a lot, your kids may voice a sense of relief. The war zone is over. Yet, often they may react with confusion, sadness, or anger. Prepare for these reactions. Understand that they will happen.
And you might even be confused by their reaction. That’s okay. Give them time to process their feelings but keep an open line of communication. If the situation requires, you can even offer for them to talk someone (such as a therapist) - especially if they continue to shut you out.
Answer Their Questions
… if they have them. Try to remain calm when answering them, not letting your emotions get the best of you. We know it’s tough, but if you start to lose control of yourself, your kids are likely to follow suit. It’s okay to cry alone after the talk. It’s okay to need to lean on a friend later and explain exactly what was said. But right now, it’s about your kids and their mental health care.
Accept responsibility for the divorce here as well. Don’t try to place blame or throw your hands up in the air. Your kids need to hear that it isn’t their fault. And even if those questions may be difficult, answer them the best you can. Sheltering your kids or preventing them from pain can result in mistrust and more pain in the future.
Don’t Delay The Separation
Dragging it out is the worst thing you can do. When you sit down with your spouse prior to the big talk, plan what you will do next. Who will go and live where? Who will leave? Who will look after the kids while things get sorted out? They are tough questions to answer. And if an agreement isn’t in sight, a lawyer may need to get involved. However, if you can figure it out between you two, you’ll save a lot more money and time (but we know each situation is different).
And don’t use your kids as pawns against the others. The divorce is separate from them. Don’t force them to be part of your relationship issues.
Then, Look Forward Into the Future
Invest some time in getting to know yourself again. Find activities to fill the time where you would normally spend it with your now ex-partner.
You can also still raise happy kids! It won’t scar them for life. You can handle the situation with the proper mental health care for your kids and move forward as a family. This doesn’t mean giving them everything they want like some parents mistakenly do. It means doing meaningful activities together still. It means showing respect for your ex in front of them. It means showing them you care.
And when you do start to date again, be sensitive to your children’s feelings in the matter. Tread carefully. But don’t forget, you can start enjoying your life again, too!