For a parent, it can be one of the toughest conversations you’ll ever have with your kids: telling them that you and their other parent are getting a divorce. This announcement can immediately set off a number of anxious feelings and questions from your child; they may be worried that they won’t ever see their other parent again, or that it was somehow their fault. There is no good time to break this news, but fortunately there are ways you can go about doing it with sensitivity, care, and positivity. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the separation, your children need to know right away that they’re loved by both parents and always will be, and that there’s no need for them to worry about the details. The best thing you can do in this difficult time is calm their fears and help them feel loved and secure — here’s how to do just that.
When to Do It, and What Wording to Use (and Avoid)
As mentioned above, there unfortunately will never be a “best time” to tell your kids that you’re getting divorced; however, there are clearly some occasions that are better suited than others. For instance, avoid breaking the news before any major family holidays, or right before the birthdays of any of the children. The Huffington Post advises to “choose your timing carefully” and that you should “pick a time where you and your ex are emotionally ready to support the kids, in whichever way they end up reacting. If you can arrange a support system for them from other family members, great.” Keeping an emphasis on a strong family system should be of utmost importance.
How your children take the news varies, especially depending on their age. Given that more and more families are living in split households due to divorce, it can be common for many kids to have peers with divorced parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that “for older children, this news may not come as a surprise… they may have worried with every argument that their parents would be next. For other children, the news may come as a shock. Prepared and unprepared children have many questions that they are afraid to ask. Some questions will be immediate; others will evolve over time. For this reason, it is important to give children repeated opportunities to ask questions and express their worries.”
The number-one thing to avoid is any type of blame, especially towards the other parent. You also need to be cognizant of the fact that some children may inwardly blame themselves for the separation, and it’s wise to constantly reassure them that that’s not the case. “Your best bet is to give the kids the reason for the separation but make it external to both of you and something that they can live with,” suggests the Huffington Post. “‘We grew apart’ is a good one. ‘Your mom/dad is a great mom/dad but we just don’t get along as a couple’ is good as well.” Choosing the correct wording and being very clear in your communication is key, and it’s worth sorting out ahead of time with your ex-partner how exactly you’re going to explain the separation to your kids. This will go a long way towards avoiding confusion and presenting a unified front from the parents.
Another thing to sort out in advance with your former partner is how to explain what comes next. This means that you will both need to figure out a rough idea of custody plans, if someone will be moving out, and when your children will have time to see each parent. It’s best to have a game plan ready to tell your kids right away, and it can help answer any questions they might have early on.
Aha! Parenting puts good focus on emphasizing stability, and reassuring them that “as much as possible will remain the same in their lives (home, room, school, activities, friends, etc) and that both parents will be there to support kids in their endeavors (shuttle them to sports games and see school performances, for instance). Make this easy for them. Your goal for the kids is stability and as much time with each parent as possible.” Many children will fear losing contact with one of their parents, so take the time to show them that this won’t be the case, and that both parents will continue to be in their lives.
Break the News in the Best Way Possible
Finally, a wise reminder from Huffington Post that parents should take to heart: “It is okay to grieve, all of you, it is normal. It is not okay as a parent to be out of control in front of the kids, badmouth the other parent or neglect the kids’ routines. Breathe, deeply, and be there for your kids. They need you.” Help your children understand that this may be a sad moment, but life can have moments like this and become good again. It’s not the end of the world, nor should it be treated as such – it’s a big change, but it can be a new beginning for everyone.
About the Author
Christie Hopkins has personal and professional ties to the Family Law industry. She has extensive experience working with families going through child custody disputes. Christie approached Family Law with attentiveness and care to ensure both parties feel valued and heard.