When it comes to telling kids about the divorce, many parents freeze up. It’s not easy to tell your child you are getting divorced and that one of their parents will not be in the home any longer. You may already be a mess yourself and facing the task of telling your children that their family will be different now seems huge and in fact it is.
So before you sit your kids down, think about what you want to say to them. If you think they may ask difficult questions, think about what you will say in response to those. Your children may be shocked at the news of your divorce or they may have seen it coming. In either case, their world is about to change.
So be as empathetic as you possibly can. Let this time be about them and what they need. Hold them and affirm that both parents love them very much. They may feel a great deal of insecurity and may express it through different ways such as anger, crying, or blaming.
In your conversations, be as truthful as possible. It may be too hurtful to your child to blurt out that “Daddy is moving in with his girlfriend and her children.” Instead set the tone that the divorce is about mom and dad no longer being able to live together. You may need to express that daddy is moving in with his girlfriend but don’t ever make the kids feel that he has chosen her kids over his own. Affirm that couples divorce but parents and children do not divorce. You want to breed security in your children, not insecurity. You may feel extremely angry that he is moving in with his girlfriend and that is totally understandable but try to keep your kids from feeling that he has chosen to leave them. The truth is the marriage may be over but he will always be their dad.
Sometimes as parents we are hurting so bad and we want our spouse to pay. But please try not to involve your kids in any type of payback. It only hurts them and breed’s insecurity, a lack of trust for your spouse, for leaving the family, and lack of trust toward you for bringing them into the middle.
Let your kids express themselves and what they are feeling. Be all ears, they may not even know what to say or how to say it but if you show them empathy and love, they will feel you are a safe place to come back to when they want to talk.
Try to avoid blaming. Yes, the divorce may be because your spouse is moving in with his girlfriend but this is a time to protect your kids as much as possible. Avoid being critical of your child’s parent to them. You will need to vent and talk but not with your children. Find someone you can release your frustrations to; but please, not your kids. They are already hurting so make it your goal to protect them. When kids believe their parent is bad they transfer that “badness” to themselves. So avoid blaming and being critical.
As much as possible, present a unified front with your spouse. Try to talk in private so that you can work out any disagreements before you speak to the kids. Now this may be really difficulty since you are divorcing but if at all possible, this is best for your kids. Even if you have to get a neutral third party involved, do it. The goal in all of this should be what is best for my child? How can I or we, if you can work together, make this as easy as possible for our kids?
At the beginning of your separation or divorce, you’ll need to pick and choose how much to tell your children. Think carefully about how certain information will affect them and always make your explanations age appropriate. Usually younger children need less detail and will do better with a simple explanation while older kids will want to have more information.
Listen and support your children by helping them to express what they are going through. Reassure them that they are still very much loved, and they will have a secure home.
Talk about common misconceptions such as the fact that the divorce is simply not their fault. You bring it up; don’t wait for them to say it because they may never do it. I’m amazed at how many kids think they were the cause of the divorce. They need to know it’s simply not true.
For kids, divorce is a loss and it may be the biggest loss they have ever experienced up to this point. They may be feeling the loss of a parent and maybe one of their siblings is going with dad while they stay with mom. It is the death of their family in the way they knew it. They must be allowed to grieve.
They may seem to be fine one day and the next they are not okay. So try to affirm on those down days that they are unconditionally loved. Reassure them that both parents are still there for them. The family unit has changed but they are still a part of mom’s family and they are still a part of dad’s family. That will never change.
Let them know that though it is very difficult now, things will get better. They need to know that you believe things will work out.
Be close to your kids in the way of physical touch, affirmations, and allowing them to talk. Quality time is important. Play games, go to the park, and even go on a walk where all you have to do is talk. I used to do this with my kid’s; it’s amazing how much they will tell you when they have your undivided attention.
Lastly, provide structure and stability.
Help your kids adjust to the changes by providing as much stability and structure as possible in their daily lives.
Remember that establishing structure and continuity doesn’t mean that you need rigid schedules or that mom and dad’s routines need to be exactly the same. But creating some regular routines at each household and consistently communicating to your children what to expect will provide your kids with a sense of calm and stability.
One way to provide structure and stability is to have routines in place.
The benefit of schedules and organization for younger children is widely recognized, but many people don’t realize that older children appreciate routines as well. Kids feel safer and more secure when they know what to expect next. Each home may have a different routine but if they know what to expect at your home, it adds to their stability and security. Knowing that, dinnertime is followed by a bath and then homework, for example, can set a child’s mind at ease.
Maintaining routine also means continuing to observe the same rules, rewards, and discipline that you have always had with your children. Resist the temptation to spoil kids during a divorce by not enforcing limits or allowing them to break the rules. This will not help them to adjust. They need to know you still have the same expectations and you expect them to continue to follow your rules.