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 advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.