How To Tell Your Kids You’re Getting Divorced

It's hard to know how to tell your kids you're getting divorced.

Planning and compassion are the most important pieces of this life-altering conversation.

One of the most difficult things to do after you’ve decided to divorce is telling your children about your decision. It’s so hard because you aren’t sure exactly how your kids will react and you’re concerned that your divorce will negatively impact them for the rest of their lives. Those are some really important and valid things to worry about – especially since you’ve probably got the same concerns for yourself. That’s why it’s so important to get this conversation right.

To get it right, you must keep the big picture goals in mind: happiness for both parents who raise happy, healthy children who have the support and love they need to become happy, healthy, contributing adults. From this starting point, you can begin planning how you will tell your kids.

As difficult as it is, the best way to prepare is together. It’s best for your kids if you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse have the exact same message.

What do you need to include in your preparation?

First, are you 100% sure that the separation and/or divorce is happening? If it’s in question, you’re not ready to tell the kids because you’ll just cause them unnecessary stress and worry. If you’re sure, then you need to plan on taking about an hour for this conversation. Schedule it for at least 48 hours before and no more than 2 weeks before one of you move out.

You must agree on the message. Some of the key statements that you need to make are:

  • This is an adult decision
  • You both will always love them
  • You both will always be their parents
  • What specific things will remain the same in the kids’ lives (e.g., bedtime, time with their friends, school, extracurricular activities, etc.)
  • What specific things will change in their lives (when they will see Mom and/or Dad, when one of their parents is moving out, they’ll have 2 homes now, etc.)

You must also avoid saying anything about either of you not loving the other anymore. If you do say you don’t love each other anymore, your kids will just wonder and worry about whether or not either of you might decide to stop loving them too.

How you deliver the message is something else you need to agree on. Some things to keep in mind about how you plan to tell the kids are:

  • Tell them together.
  • Think like your kids keeping in mind their level of understanding and potential need for emotional support.
  • Agreeing not blame or have any conflict as you tell the children.
  • Agreeing to remain as calm as possible.

As part of your planning, you’ll want to figure out when you’ll talk with your children. Keep in mind that you’ll want to choose a time when you won’t be rushed and they will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions and process what you’re going to tell them.

After putting in the effort to plan and prepare, it is easier to tell you children about your divorce. But you never really can predict exactly how things will go. So, here are some points to keep in mind when you do sit your family down for this conversation:

  • Let all your kids hear the news at the same time. Then allow every child alone time with each of you. Sharing the news as a family emphasizes the fact that you’re still a family who can handle things together. The individual time will allow each child to know that they’re still loved by both their parents.
  • Reassure your children together and individually that they’ll still be loved and cared for.
  • Be ready to answer all of their questions honestly without going into all the gory details – remember this is an adult decision.
  • Be as calm as possible, but if you start to cry or choke up that’s OK. This is sad for everyone. Besides, you being sad will give your kids permission to feel their emotions too which will give you the opportunity to let them know that what they’re feeling is normal.
  • Let the kids know that they can still love both of you just like you both love them.
  • Do NOT say you don’t love each other anymore. I know I’ve already said this, but it’s too important to miss.
  • Spare your kids the legal and financial details.
  • You might want to talk about other kids they know with divorced parents if it will help them understand the situation and not feel so alone or different from their friends with married parents.

Just because you’ve told your kids and you’ve answered all of their questions, your job isn’t done. As each child processes how their life is changing they’ll continue to have questions (maybe even the same ones you’ve already answered). They’ll also need ongoing reassurance that you both still love them. So, continue to shower them with love and understanding.

However, love and understanding doesn’t mean that their routines go out the window. One of the things that will help them the most is to keep some things about their lives as consistent as possible. And if your kids are older you’ll also want to keep your expectations of them as consistent as possible too.

Obviously the only way you’re going to keep as positive as possible and help your kids through this big transition for your family is to take care of yourself. Get the support you need and deserve so you can keep the big picture goals in mind: 2 happy parents who raise happy, healthy children who have the support and love they need to become happy, healthy, contributing adults.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceIf you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

If you’re looking for more help on how to deal with the challenges you’re facing now, read more about Life After Divorce.

Gray Divorce’s Unexpected Challenge? Your Adult Kids

Family that was torn apart by gray divorce.

You’d like to believe that your adult children will be able to take your divorce in stride…

Divorcing when you’re 50 or older has a unique set of challenges (including the label “gray divorce”). You face more complicated financial concerns because retirement is that much closer (CNBC). Health insurance and health care are more important to get right than it was in your 20’s. You may also wind up paying spousal support for the rest of your life (Covy).

You’ve probably already considered or dealt with these issues of retirement, health care/insurance, and alimony when it comes to your over-50 divorce. But the one surprising issue you may get to deal with is the reaction your adults kids are having to your divorce.

There’s probably a part of you that believed your kids would behave and react as the adults they are instead of the children they were, but divorce is hard on kids no matter what their age. They never want the dream of their parents staying together swept away.

But the challenges for adult kids of divorce (AKODs) are a bit different from those for younger kids simply because they are adults and the relationship you and your ex have with them.

Here are 5 of the most common ways that AKODs have difficulty with their parents’ divorce:

  1. They question their identity and feel bewildered, lost and maybe even betrayed. Believe it or not, our families play a large part in who we see ourselves as and how we interact with the world. We even tend model the behavior of our parents in our relationships.But when their parents’ divorce, AKODs question what was real about their family. Was any of it true? Did their parents just stay together for their sake? Should they take sides? How can they deal with all of this when they’ve got their own family to raise? And a million others…
  2. They know too many details about why you’re getting divorced. Unlike younger children, AKODs usually get to hear all the details about their parents’ divorce. They don’t want to hear it! They don’t know what to do with the information because the truth is they love both of you. They don’t want to take sides. They feel torn. They’re stuck agreeing with dad when he complains about mom and agreeing with mom when she complains about dad because they love both of you and want you both to feel better (or maybe just get back together).
  3. They might feel compelled to play parent, mediator or friend to both of you.This is where you can help your adult kids a lot: DON’T expect them to provide guidance as you go through your divorce. Just like younger kids, your adult kids will want to help make you feel better, but it’s not their job. Find a therapist or coach to guide you instead of your kids.
  4. They might need to work with a therapist to work through their feelings about your divorce. Your adult kids have their own lives and worries without taking on yours as well. You and your ex may have been their primary source of support, but now neither of you are up to the task because of your own struggles. It’s a great idea for them to reach out to a neutral person to work through their feelings about your divorce.
  5. They need to grieve the loss of their family as they knew it. The death of your marriage is the death of their family. Your divorce shatters their dreams of having their parents and family live happily ever after.Your kids need to mourn their losses. They’ll grieve and probably won’t be quite themselves as they work through their grief. They might be more tense or curt. They might not want to talk with you as much as you’d like. But once they work through their grief (just like you have to work through yours), they’ll be back to themselves too.

As many differences as there are with gray divorce, there’s one thing that’s constant no matter when you get divorced: your divorce will impact your children. Your job as a parent is to understand that your adult kids will need to have your support as they come to terms with your divorce because a parent’s job is never really done.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceIf you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

If you’re looking for more help dealing with the challenges of your gray divorce, read more articles about Life After Divorce.