What to Say to Kids About Divorce
It is difficult enough raising children in a loving and functional family environment, but throw in a divorce and the ensuing drama could take on a life of its own. Divorce is hard and you may not know what to say to kids about divorce. It’s even harder when kids are involved. What should you tell your kids and how do you go about doing it? It may be the most difficult conversation you’ll ever have.
“This is a conversation that children will remember for the rest of their lives,” says M. Gary Neuman, author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce. There is no perfect way to tell your kids that Mommy and Daddy will not be living together anymore, but the following suggestions may help alleviate their fears and concerns. Tell them together as a couple. Children benefit from a united message delivered by both parents.
Talk to Your Children About the Divorce Together
It is important that they hear the same story from both of you to avoid any confusion. Map out a course of action and agree on what you’re going to say to them and how, even if you disagree about everything else. Tailor your discussion according to your children’s maturity level. Something along the lines of, “We have decided that we cannot live together anymore and do not want to stay married. It has absolutely nothing to do with you; we both love you.
We are still and always will be Mom and Dad.” They may look at it as breaking up the family but in reality it’s more like reorganizing the family. It’s not your fault. It is vital that kids know that there is absolutely nothing they have done to cause their parents to decide to divorce.
Assure Your Children the Divorce is Not Their Fault
Younger children will tend to feel it’s their fault and may even blame themselves for the breakup. They may think, “if I keep my room extra clean,” or “if I study hard and do better in school,” that this will fix the problem. This is where Mommy and Daddy need to provide them with repeated reassurances that the divorce is an adult decision that stemmed from adult problems. It has nothing to do with them.
Sometimes things happen and it is not their fault and that you love them just the same. Give reassurances of love and consistency. Let your kids know that both Mom and Dad love them and will continue to love them. Reassure them that even though the physical circumstances of the family will change they can continue with a loving relationship with both of their parents.
Tell Your Children They Will Still See Both Parents
Also, let them know that even though some things will change, mom and dad will do their best to maintain the same daily routines that they are accustom to. Anything that is staying the same, needs to be communicated and reassured that these things will remain the same. “As much as possible, basic mealtimes and other rituals should be the same between the two households,” says Isolina Ricci, a psychotherapist who wrote Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids, “continuing a child’s regular schedule makes children feel safe.”
The more things remain the same the more stable your kids will feel. Be upfront and honest but spare the details. Older children most likely saw the signs and are not surprised circumstances have come to this. They will ask for details about the divorce and how it will affect their lives. Be truthful and upfront but leave out the painful details. Tell them the basics – they will live with Mom sometimes and with Dad sometimes but they will see both parents every week. Also reassure them that (ideally) you will be together for any extra-curricular activities and some celebrations such as birthdays and graduations. Only promise what you can deliver.
Do Not Ask Your Children About The Other Parent
This is not a game of ‘I Spy’. Remember that your goal is to avoid stress and pain for your children. It is crucial and imperative that your kids are not put into the middle of Mom and Dad’s conflict; making them feel like they have to choose between you. Avoid interrogations when your kids return from the other parent. No matter how curious you may be, do not turn your children into spies.
Encourage them to love and respect the other parent no matter your feelings or emotions. There is no ‘bad’ parent; only two good parents that cannot remain married. You will get through this. Let your kids know that it is going to be okay – we’re all going to get through this together. Keep the dialogue open – continue offering reassurances and that you’re open to any questions at any time.
Create a Support Network for Your Children
If need be, let your children’s teachers, daycare providers, and friends’ parents know what is happening so that they can be an added support system. Telling your kids that mom and dad are getting a divorce may be the most difficult conversation you’ll ever have. It will take time for your children to process how they feel.
Reassurance of love and fairness will be remembered long after your children reach adulthood, “My parents have always been fair with me. Even though they were divorced, they were both always there for me. I love them for that.” When divorce changes the family dynamic and co-parents work together for the well-being of their kids, they are just as effective as parents in intact marriages, “I have grown up to be a very secure person. Both of my parents have always been there for me, and they both make time to talk to me together if that is what I need.” Keep talking, reassuring, and loving. And remember – you’re still mom and dad and that will never change.