It can be one of the toughest conversations you'll ever have with your kids: telling them their parents are getting divorced. That news can immediately prompt many questions and anxious feelings from your children. They may be worried they won't ever see mom or dad again or that the divorce was somehow their fault.
It can feel like there is no good time to break this news, but there are ways to conduct the conversation with sensitivity, care, and positivity. Below are some things to remember when telling your children about your decision to divorce.
At What Age Does Divorce Affect Children the Most?
Studies show that the most challenging time for children to deal with divorce is between ages 6 and 12. That is primarily because they are self-aware and already have solidified memories of their parents being happy together. They may easily focus on how they may have played a role in the divorce and not understand that it has nothing to do with them.
However, whether your children are in elementary school or are teenagers, it won't be easy for them to deal with divorce. This is why it's important to share the news delicately and sincerely and to ensure your children's needs are met throughout the process.
Plan Carefully Before Sharing the News
Once you’ve decided to tell your kids about the divorce, it is crucial to plan the conversation carefully, prepare with your spouse, and determine the best time for the discussion. Careful consideration of those factors will foster a smoother transition for the children.
How Can You Prepare To Talk to Your Kids About the Divorce?
In preparing for the discussion with your kids, ensure you and your spouse are on the same page with the information you share and how you share it. It is also critical that you and your spouse are in stable emotional states—that is, not angry or upset. Your emotional state will guide your children during the conversation, so showing confidence and sympathy is vital.
If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on how to have a conversation, you could consider having the discussion with a professional mediator present, such as a counselor.
If you and your partner don't see eye to eye on the dialogue, you may want to consider enlisting someone to help facilitate the conversation.
When Should You Tell Your Kids About the Divorce?
A divorce typically results in the children moving out of the family home with one parent, staying in the home with the other parent, or everyone moving out. Regardless of the change, it would help if you planned to tell your kids about the divorce a few weeks before that change. That will allow for some time for the kids to adjust, process, fully understand what is happening, and spend some additional time as a family under one roof. It will also allow for a continued opportunity to discuss the divorce if the children wish to do so. Moreover, it can provide an opportunity to answer additional questions the children may have while the family unit remains intact.
Another factor to remember is the specific day and time to tell your kids. Ideally, it will happen on the weekend, during the day, when there is some cushion time to process and spend time together. However, it would be best if you did not announce it close to a child's birthday or a meaningful holiday, nor should it be done right before bedtime or school. Again, give the children cushion time afterward to discuss, ask questions, and process.
Regardless, carefully think through the timing of the conversation with the children's feelings in mind.
What Wording To Use (and Avoid)
It's crucial to carefully word the news of divorce, which colors the entire conversation. It is also important to give just enough information—not so much to overwhelm the children, but not so little to leave them hanging and completely confused.
Once you tell the children you are getting divorced, let the children guide the conversation from there. Let them talk as much or as little as they want and ask as many questions as they’d like.
The purpose of telling your children about the divorce is to do just that—tell them about the divorce. That means sticking with the main point and not going into too many details about the reasons. Indeed, sharing the true reason for divorce with young children—such as an affair or alcohol abuse, for example—can be highly inappropriate and psychologically damaging.
The parents should stick with general statements, such as, "We are unable to see eye to eye on a few important issues, so we have made the mutual decision not to live together anymore."
Depending on the circumstances, the parents should research age-appropriate information and have multiple conversations over time as the child ages, especially if the child remains emotional about the divorce.
The last thing any parent should do is blame someone else, especially the other parent. An excellent way to avoid blaming others is to avoid the word "fault" and for the parents to present a united front by using the term "we" when talking about the decision to get a divorce.
During this conversation, the priority is not on the parents' feelings or the "truth" of what really happened. Instead, it's about presenting the news to the kids in the smoothest way possible. That means never blaming the other parent or placing fault, even long after the divorce. Such blame can cause inner conflict within the child, who may feel compelled to choose sides.
The parents should also affirmatively clarify that no fault lies with the children. The parents should remind the children how much they love them and that they will always be their parents no matter what.
Explain the Upcoming Changes in Your Children’s Lives
Plan to give your children a clear idea of how their lives will change, including:
- Where they will sleep each night
- When they will spend time with each parent
- Who will do school pickup and drop off
Similarly, it would be best to assure your kids that many aspects of their lives will remain the same, such as school activities, spending time with friends, Etc.
If appropriate for their age, mention the advantages of the changes, like having two separate bedrooms in two different homes. However, if the kids are upset about the change, it is best to respect their emotions and not try to spin it.
There are guides available for younger children and teenagers to help them cope with the changes from divorce. Providing resources to your children can help in the transition process.
What Happens Next?
As difficult as it may be to tell your kids about the divorce, the aftermath may be even more complex. The kids are still processing, and delayed reactions may be brewing. Parents should stay vigilant, keeping an eye on how they cope with the situation and addressing their children's feelings. Below are a few ways to prepare.
Let Your Children Express Their Feelings
Validating your children's emotions is critical to their successful transition through a divorce. The last thing they need on top of significant change is someone telling them they don’t have a right to be upset or feel a certain way.
An effective way to validate your children's emotions is to tell them you understand and are here to help them navigate these changes. Allow room for an ongoing conversation about the divorce for as long as the children need it.
Reassure Your Kids As Often as They Need It
The children of divorce may question their life's stability, routine, and relationships with their parents. They may not understand that you are still fully committed as a parent. It is essential to ensure your children feel secure and understood by expressing to them how much you love them and that you are not going anywhere. This will prevent them from developing a fear of abandonment later in life and ensure that you and the children will always be a family.
Advocate for Your Children
It is essential to ensure that your children remain on track during such a difficult time when their parents are going through a divorce. That is why you should advocate for your children and ensure they understand that you are on their side and will never give up on them. Monitoring their progress will help ensure they can handle all areas, such as school.
Focus on Co-Parenting
A key factor to a smooth transition during a divorce is strong co-parenting. The presence of both parents and the establishment of effective communication provides children with a sense of security and safety.
Effective co-parenting also means not venting to your children about their other parent. Again, your children are still going through their own pain about the divorce from an entirely different perspective than yours. It's important to respect their emotions.
Co-parenting can be difficult if one or both parents have personal struggles, such as alcohol abuse. In that case, the parent(s) must have accountability, including attending support groups, journaling, and alcohol monitoring.
Alcohol monitoring is typically done through an alcohol testing device. Soberlink provides such a device through a remote breathalyzer, which allows the parent to test their blood alcohol level discreetly and from home. As parents, holding each other accountable can help foster support and prevent a relapse, thus serving the children’s best interests.
Have Fun With Your Kids
During this challenging time, it is vital to keep doing what you and your children love and continue having fun together. Even though it is a rough time for the family, the relationship between you and your kids is still growing. A good way to strengthen that relationship is to spend quality time together, plan fun activities, and continue to laugh and have fun together.
Are Kids Happier After Divorce?
Kids can certainly be happier after a divorce. A divorce can lead to a healthier environment for kids to thrive, learn, and grow. A few factors that foster a supportive environment for children include:
- Having solid relationships with their parents
- Having parents who discipline them appropriately
- Having parents who are emotionally available and supportive
- Having their basic needs met
A divorce is not an emotional death sentence for anyone and can sometimes lead to a better childhood for the kids.
Help Your Children Succeed
Many children from divorce go on to be successful and mentally healthy individuals. A big part of that success is that the parents are their children’s cheerleaders, number one fans, and biggest supporters. Don't let a divorce convince you that you're a bad parent or a failure. Instead, continue to parent to the best of your ability, take responsibility for your well-being, and encourage your children to live happy, healthy lives. Make sure they understand you are always there for them.
Your children have a clean slate and should be reminded they are worthy of true happiness, joy, and love. You and your spouse will be the people who determine whether that message is truly taught to your child or not. Now is the time to live up to that responsibility.
Again—and a common theme here—that means:
- Avoid allowing negative emotions that may affect your children's emotional well-being during and after the divorce.
- Do not blame or place fault on one another in front of your children.
- Avoid expressing cynicism about life, love, or marriage to your children.
Remember What Is Best for You, Too
One of the reasons a divorce may be best for everyone involved is because the parents are currently in an unhealthy marriage that negatively affects their mental health and, thus, their parenting abilities. In the same way parents should put on their oxygen masks on a plane before helping their children, parents must also take care of their own mental, emotional, and physical health before they can be effective parents.
Doing some self-care as a parent can make all the difference in your parenting. The better you feel, the better your children will feel, as children pick up on your emotional state more quickly than you think.
Self-care is often stigmatized as selfish, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Taking care of yourself is crucial for supporting and caring for those around you, including your children, loved ones, and colleagues. It is a necessary step for being able to give your best to others.