How to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce
It’s a process.
Divorce can be a nasty and heart-wrenching experience to endure and it almost always is. However, it’s also a reality of life and sometimes it can be the best possible solution for you as an individual, or for your family as a whole.
Often, we find children caught in the middle of their parents’ unhealthy relationship and that can lead to trauma, depression and emotional issues. It’s important to take the time to navigate the conversation correctly and allow your children the space to digest their own emotions and thoughts.
Divorce is a process, it’s not something that just occurs the minute the papers are signed and you are on your way. There’s thousands of, if not more, little scenarios that lead to the divorce, and the aftermath can be just as painful and emotionally exhausting as the build-up. It’s important to recognize that trauma is often passed down from parents to their children. A lot of the emotional issues we find in ourselves came from our parents, and it’s up to us to break the chain and allow our own children the environment to work through that trauma.
Tips to Help Your Children Through a Divorce
Plan out the conversation beforehand: it can be extremely difficult to tell your children that you and your partner plan to separate. Every kid is different and you can never fully anticipate how they’re going to react. It’s always best to plan the conversation ahead of time to the best of your ability. Although you can’t control every little detail of the conversation, having a foundation to rely upon, and key points to circle back to when the conversation gets off course can be extremely helpful for both you and your child. It’s also important to plan the conversation around a time where you and your child are not too busy. You don’t want to put such a heavy burden on your child right before soccer practice.
Talk to your child together
If possible, it’s always best to present a united front. Help your child understand that the decision is best for both of you, and there’s no need whatsoever to take sides or assume fault. If you have multiple children, best to present the information to them all at the same time. That way you can be sure they heard it from you and not from one of their other siblings. If you need to have separate conversations afterwards based on age, you can then do so.
Create a narrative of non-fault
It’s best to create an environment where there is no blame to go around. Don’t make your child feel like one of their parents did something that is leading to the end of their family unit (even if one of the parents did.) Your children don’t need to know all of the details of your divorce and relationship. It’s important for them to feel like this is the best for everyone, and although it may be tough, you are still moving forward as a cohesive unit in terms of next steps. By creating blame games, it can make your child feel isolated and lost in all the noise.
Give your children a reason for the divorce
Although it’s not necessary to share the details for your divorce, it is important to provide a sense of reasoning for your children. You don’t need to lay out the exact timeline of events that occurred that led to the divorce, but you can let them know there is a cause for what’s about to happen next. “We both want different things in our lives going forward; we’ve grown apart and can’t seem to reconcile our differences; we appreciate each other and want to be friends, but we no longer feel like we’re in love.” Providing a reason for the divorce makes it easier for your children to sympathize with you and your partner as opposed to immediately feeling like a victim themselves.
Lay the groundwork for what will change and stay the same
This is one of the most important aspects in the process of getting divorced. Provide a clear groundwork for what’s about to happen next. How are their lives going to change, and what is going to stay the same? What kinds of expectations can they have from both of their parents going forward? Make sure they know where they’re going to live, what their schedule is going to be like and how this may affect any of the important aspects or hobbies within their lives. It’s also okay to be clear about the things you don’t know going forward. It’s a learning process and making your children part of that process can help make the healing component that much stronger.
Reassurance is everything
Be sure to reassure them again and again. Kids are going to take some time to process the information, and will likely repeat questions as they try to wrap their head around what’s going on. Listen and acknowledge them as they interpret the information. Most importantly, make sure the time you’ve set aside to tell them about the divorce is time for them, and not time for you.
Their reactions are completely normal
You may find one of the children has an immediate outburst to the news, while the other quietly digests the information. One child may have seen it coming from miles away while the other was totally blindsided and oblivious. Whatever your child, or children feel, it’s normal. Make sure they understand that they can express whatever their feelings are. The conversation is also open-ended, and if they have any questions or concerns afterwards, you can pick it up right where you left off.
Being Present and Available for Your Kids in a Difficult Time
Once you’ve told your children about the divorce, it’s best to give them some space and time to adjust to the news. Be willing and open to discuss it whenever they’d like. Try not to make it a heavy topic, but a reality that we’re all accepting and making the best of. By doing so, you normalize not only the situation but their reactions and feelings as well.