For married couples with children, deciding to divorce can be a difficult and life-changing decision. You know what is best for yourself, your spouse and your children, but that doesn’t make the decision or telling the kids about the impending change any easier.
The last thing a parent wants is to cause their child any pain, so it’s important to prepare yourself as best as possible before breaking the news. Each family dynamic is unique, but there are a few basics each parent can utilize in planning how to tell the kids about a divorce.
Take some time to prepare
This conversation should ideally take some planning if at all possible. If you and your soon-to-be former spouse are on good enough terms, it could be in the child’s best interest to hear the news from both of you at the same time. This united front shows the kids that their parents are still a team whether or not they stay together in a marriage.
The two of you will, in most cases, continue co-parenting far beyond when the divorce becomes final. Set up a shared parenting dynamic from the beginning by preparing for the conversation and sharing the news together. This can help tell the kids the split isn’t about choosing sides because the two of you remain a parenting team.
Consider their point of view
Children tend to have strong, visceral reactions to big news, good or bad. As a parent, you know how your child responds to news, so tailor the conversation to their needs. Some kids may become angry, sad, confused or even feel happiness or relief; everyone responds in a unique way and it’s important to expect any number of initial reactions.
Maintain some sense of normalcy
A major part of your child’s life is about to change after they hear about an impending divorce. When possible, try to keep other aspects of their lives consistent in the aftermath to diminish the feelings of turmoil. Keep them on a regular schedule, maintain open dialogue, listen to their needs; the family dynamic is shifting and kids in particular need to cling to something to steady themselves.
It’s important to note that if you or your children are in an unsafe situation, prioritize safety before all else. Every divorce comes from different reasons so some may be easier and less potentially traumatic than others. If it’s safe to do so, have the entire family stay in the home together after this conversation. Even if one parent takes the couch or a guest room, this can help prevent feelings of abandonment that may come if one parent immediately leaves after discussing the divorce.
Keep the conversation going
Telling the kids the news is only one step in the process of going through a divorce. It may take multiple conversations over a long period of time for everyone in the family to cope with the changes. It may prove useful to consult other resources such as a child psychologist, family counselor or family law expert.
Your family’s happiness and wellbeing are a top priority. Take the time to prepare for these difficult conversations and give everyone the best chance to get through this time in a productive way.