Monica is worried about how to tell her kids that she and their father are splitting up. Her three kids, all pre-teens, are very close to their dad. “How do you tell your kids you’re getting divorced?” frets this Circle of Moms member.
Reaching the decision to separate or get a divorce is difficult enough without the challenge of breaking the news to your children. But tell your kids you must. Failing to accurately inform your children about changes in marriage and living arrangements can have lasting effects, Circle of Moms member Ali recalls. She was four when her parents separated and they “never said a word about it.” She didn’t find out her parents were divorced until nine years later when her sister broke the news over the phone.
“I was heartbroken and actually let her go so I could cry without anyone hearing it,” Ali says. “My only advice is to not wait, and try to make [your child] understand, through stories and other things, how a divorce is best for a family. . . Otherwise, [your child] will build an imaginary idea of your relationship through the way you talk to each other and that may hurt her.”
Since, as Ali's story illustrates, this conversation sets the stage for all that follows, it's important to be thoughtful about the way you handle it. Here are five strategies for breaking news of a separation, split, or divorce to your grade school-aged kids, as shared by moms who've been through it.
1. Tell the Honest, Simple Truth
Many Circle of Moms members who already are divorced say there’s no reason to tiptoe around the subject of divorce or separation with big kids. After all, grade schoolers are perceptive enough to know that “something” is going on in their mom’s and dad’s relationship, and may even understand that divorce means mom and dad won’t live together any more.
Stacy agrees that parents should be up-front with their children about a divorce “from the start,” because kids will “hear and see things that we don’t think they do.” Moreover, Stacey explains, being honest about the situation and simply explaining that Mom and Dad aren’t getting along — without getting into the details — is the best way to show that the family can cope with difficult situations even if everyone’s not physically living in the same space.
The key, say both Teresa and Alison, is to provide an explanation that's simple — telling your child only things he can understand — so as not to confuse him, especially in an already confusing situation. (If you need help explaining things, adds Teresa, there are many books that help parents explain divorce to their children at their level.)
What exactly does a simple, honest explanation look like? Circle of Moms member Meryet, whose daughter was five when she and her husband split, was as painfully honest as she could be: "I sat her down one day and told her that Mommy and Daddy were going to be living in different houses because we couldn't get along very nicely anymore. She was understanding.” Mom Kerstin, too, told her nine-year-old daughter “straight out” that she was getting a divorce because “Mommy and Daddy don’t love each other enough to stay married,” and explained that this “just happens with adults sometimes.”
2. Have the Conversation as a Family if Possible
When possible, Circle of Moms members suggest parents talk about divorce with the entire family present, to show that Mom and Dad will still “be there” and are truthful with their children. Because divorce can be so disrupting, it’s important to tell children that you’re still a family, even if dad is living somewhere else, Daniela says. “Make sure your children’s dad is still a big part of their lives, and show them that you both love them every day. . . . I know sometimes it's easier said than done, but in the end it's what your children need — a healthy, happy family atmosphere.
3. Don’t Bad-Mouth the Other Parent
No matter how you feel about your ex, for the children’s sake, Circle of Mom members advise avoiding bad-mouthing the other parent. Children will take it personally when you talk badly about their other parent, and saying derogatory things can make it an even more difficult time for the kids, mom Jennifer explains.
A member named Sara agrees. Making negative comments about your ex and vice-versa "puts the child under a lot of pressure to take sides, and in the long-run it can also prove to be quite damaging," she says, adding that, "You never know what kids will take to heart or misconstrue.”
Kerstin shares that even when she's tempted to tell her daughter about her dad’s awful behavior, she keeps the illusion up because she knows that it’s important for her daughter to make her own judgments when she is old enough.
4. Keep Things as Normal as Possible
Additionally, it’s important for parents to try to keep things as normal as possible.
When parents share custody, it’s important to maintain a schedule so that your children are not left heart-broken wondering why either parent never came to see them, Sara says.
Ann suggests giving your children a "custody calendar" that shows them when they will be where. This is something she did for her daughter when she and her husband first separated. “Next to each date I went in a put an M (for Mommy) or a D (for Daddy) as to who she was with on that day,” she explains. Her daughter kept the calendar in her backpack and she could pull it out whenever she wanted, at home or school , to "be confident that she knew where she was going to be.”
5. Reassure Your Kids
Children of all ages, but especially grade schoolers, are emotionally vulnerable during a divorce. So the most important thing when talking about divorce is to explain that the situation has nothing to do with them.
“Reassurance is always the key,” notes a member named Kay. “Let [your child] know that the separation has nothing to do with her, and that just because you and Daddy aren't together anymore it doesn't mean she is loved any less. You need to make it clear that you still love her dad but you don't get along any more, and you will both be better if Mom and Dad separately.” Your child needs to know that she will still see both parents and that being apart will make you better parents because you won't be arguing, Kay adds.
Leslie agrees. The important thing is to let your child know that he isn’t to blame for the separation, she emphasizes, but instead that he will have a happier (better) mom and dad … “which always makes a happier (healthier) child.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.