Telling your children you and your partner are getting a divorce is probably one of the hardest conversations you'll ever have in a lifetime, hands down.
Unless your kids are dying to have the two of you split up due to stressful family arguments, most likely your children will be very sad. However, there's no way around it: you can't hide a divorce from the kids, but when you tell them, you and your partner can make the process easier by considering these few aspects and tips!
Practice Ahead of Time
This is not the time to "wing it." You and your partner need to sit down and discuss how you two are going to break the news to the kiddos. Obviously you cannot plan every last breath and syllable, but the two of you can go over the main components of your message to the kids. The absolute worst thing to do would be:
Don't Go Against Each Other or Accuse
Now is not the time to bring up your partner's affairs, gambling, or issues. Now is not the time for your partner to accuse you of breaking up the marriage and family. Pointing fingers at either one of you is toxic to kids and is completely wrong. Divorce should be presented as a mutual decision to the children that you both support. I understand this can stink for the parent who might want to keep the marriage together or who was mistreated, but to sit there and say how one parent or the other is breaking up the family is immature and downright wrong for the kids.
If your partner is really that bad, as your kids grow they will understand it by watching the person's actions — not by you narrating his or her every wrongdoing. When a parent does that, that parent becomes just as bad as the "wrongdoer."
The botton line is the two of you know why you are divorcing. Your kids don't need the blow by blow of the drama, please!
So What CAN I Say Then?
You can tell your kids that the two of you are having a hard time getting along and you would like the family to be a happy and positive place for everyone to exist and live and not a stressful one. If there is the issue of substance abuse and one parent is going off into treatment, that is another story. I then would highly recommend you speak to a counselor before telling the kids in order to find ways to support the children while the other parent or yourself is in treatment.
Four Necessary Pillars to the Talk
No matter how you say it or why the divorce is happening, there are four crucial pillars to the talk:
- Your children should know that no matter what, there is no possible way on earth that they could have caused this. Your children should know that even if they never made one bad choice, the marriage would be over. Explain that there is no magic to making a marriage work and that there is nothing they did or could do to change the outcome. That it all falls on the two of your shoulders!
- That you both still love them. You may not be Mr. and Mrs. or Mrs. and Mrs., but that you will always be their parents. When they go to college, graduate school, have a child, or get married themselves, you will always both be there for them. Nothing changes the fact that you are still their parents.
- That they have the right to ask questions (you may not answer all of them! Remember — no inappropriate information sharing, please!) and to feel however they want. Don't be surprised if one kid yells at one of you, blaming you despite how the two of you have placed the blame on no one, and the other kid sobs and doesn't want to talk. Prepare for mixed emotions.
- That you stay calm. It is fine for the two of you to be sad or angry, but now is not the time to air your emotions. The fact is it's the kids' turns to share their grievances and heartaches, not yours. You need to be strong so they can then be weak. It's their time.
Be Definite and Have Information
Come to the talk positive that you two are divorcing and not just "considering" it. Children don't need the instability of your marriage cycle.
Also, you won't have every single answer to their questions but know the basics in terms of:
- Will their living situation be changing and how so?
- How often will they see the two of you?
- Share support: before you give the talk, line up trusted loved ones, pediatricians, teachers, etc. in order to form a solid support system for the kids as they go through the process.
Be open to however your kids react and as much as it may hurt to hear things they have to say, listen. They need to be heard.
Most importantly, tell them that no matter which parent they are with, the kids will always have equal and liberal access to call, Skype, or FaceTime the other parent. Let them know that the two of you will work together as best as you can for their sake and then please do it!
A Family Still but Different
If you have little ones, reading a book on divorce together can help them understand the discussion. Based on your children's age and individual development, do research and build supports ahead of time based on your child's age and individual issues and strengths.
Explain that while the two of you will not be married, you will still be family but different. Unless another new partner is quickly entering the gate, you don't need to speak about blended families now. Don't put seeds of thoughts into the kids' heads unless it's an actual issue like say for example, dad is moving in ASAP with his new love interest or affair.
And lastly . . .
Only tell kids the information they need to know! Please. If there are things you don't know for certain yet, leave them out of the conversation until you have clear answers and can present them to the kids.