After the love is gone: How to tell the children about divorce

 

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My parents’ divorce would have screwed me up a lot less if they’d bothered telling me about it.

Crystal, age 50

When most of you made the commitment to marry, you believed that you would be married for life. Sure there would be some difficulties along the way. However, you would get through those rough times and still be together. Unfortunately, that is not how your marriage worked out and now you are making one of the most difficult and heart wrenching decisions of your life.

You are going to divorce.

Now comes the next hardest part. How do you explain this to those who are going to be affected by this decision. In particular, how do you tell your children. Here are a few strategies that may help make these difficult conversations a little easier.

 

  • Do the least harm. Ask yourself, If I share this detail, how will it help my child feel more safe, secure, loved or make this experience easier? If you cannot answer those questions positively, then do not share something that is not in their best interest.
  • Is it real? Make absolutely sure that you really are divorcing. If you are struggling yet trying to work on the relationship, do not tell your children that you are considering divorce.
  • Plan it out, write it down and schedule it. This isn’t the time for a spontaneous conversation. Decide on what will be said and how it will be presented and write it down so you don’t forget as you deal with the children’s emotions during your conversation. While you may not know how much time you need, expect at least an hour or so for the first conversation (yes, there may very well be more than one). Stay away from bed times, car rides, before work, school or your children’s extra curricular activities.
  • Tell them as a team. Regardless of who wanted or initiated the divorce, or the factors precipitating it, the children need to hear this news from the two of you, together. If for some very convincing reason, one of you is physically unable to discuss this with the children as a team (including incarceration, permanently living in another continent where Skype is unavailable); or truly cannot stand to be in the same room with one another even if it is in your children’s best interest, then the two of you need to agree what you both will say and how it will be said during your separate conversations.
  • Avoid blaming: It takes two people to make a marriage and two people to break it. With that said, avoiding the blame game can be especially difficult when one of you feels that the other has caused irreparable damage. Remember that the children’s need for security and reassurance are more important than your own need for retribution.
  • Always tell the truth. Now this can be very tricky. The truth might be that only one of you wants the divorce, that you are devastated and scared or that one or both of you cheated. While these may all be true, is telling your children these things doing the least harm? Perhaps some form of the following is a safer, more protective truth for them to hear.

“Sometimes adults do things to one other, their feelings change, they fall out of love and they can’t get it back. However, adults loving each other is completely different than parents loving their children. There is never, ever anything you could do that would change our feelings for you or make us stop loving you.”

  • Think like your child. Most children think that they are very powerful. After all, they can walk in a room as a youngster and adults will stop what they are doing and give them their undivided attention. Therefore, they may believe that the divorce is their fault. Deal with that issue as soon as you can. let them know that there is nothing that they did or could do to cause your divorce. It is an adult decision. For children, the biggest issue and unknown is how the divorce will affect them. So be honest in discussing the changes that may occur, such as: Living arrangements, school, time they will spend with each of you or pick ups and drop offs. Assure them that you will be there to help with any changes that occur.
  • Stability, stability, stability. There will be so much tumult during the divorce that you need to balance it with what will stay the same. Things like school, friends, activities, visits with relatives or babysitters.  Perhaps if they like, their bedroom in the new house could look similar to there bedroom now. Remember that your love for them will always stay the same.
  • Feelings are real. It is okay to let the children know that you are sad. Assure them that they can always talk about their feelings with you or someone they trust. Do not allow your feelings to overpower their needs. They should never be put in a position to take care of you. It is your job to comfort them.
  • Use your support system. There are people in your lives who need to know about the divorce. Teachers, coaches, instructors, babysitters, friends’ parents should be informed and asked to be mindful of any clear behavior changes.
  • Find a family therapist. Know when to ask for help for you and/or your children. Marriage and family therapists are specifically educated and trained to help families deal affectively with the challenges inherent in the divorce process. Make sure to look for licensed marriage and family therapists that are at least clinical fellows with The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. They have a “find a therapist” area on their website: www.aamft.org

Divorce isn’t just the person, it’s everything that goes with it – your kids, the adjustment, everything.

Peter Andre, Singer/songwriter

 

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