How to Explain Someone Else’s Divorce to Your Child

  • Stick to the facts of the divorce, and do not get sidetracked.
  • Do not let your feelings regarding the situation to color your child's perception.
  • Make clear to your child that this doesn't happen in every relationship.

"Do not let them become jaded by the examples of relationships in their lives and explain to them the importance of compatibility and getting to know someone before making a commitment to them."

It could be a close family member, like an aunt or an uncle, or given the rise in ‘gray divorce,’ it could be a grandparent. At some point in a child’s life, someone close to them may experience a divorce, and depending on their age, parents will have to explain to the child what is occurring, in order to help them understand.

Given the depth and variety of closeness among American families, a child’s perception of the absence of a family member during a family function could be upsetting, depending on their age and maturity. Parents and adult family members aware of the situation can often attempt to distract a child from their question through artificial means, in order to camouflage what is really going on.

Due to a child’s perceptive nature, it rarely works. In fact, hiding behind distractions in an attempt to avoid telling the truth to children, can make teaching children how to tell the truth on a regular basis, more difficult.

Facts first

Parent Society, a site dedicated to family life content, put together some helpful suggestions to speaking to your child about someone else’s divorce. The first suggestion is sticking to facts. Giving too much information or salacious details is probably not the best idea, but being succinct and forthcoming regarding someone else’s divorce can help them not only understand how a marriage breaks down, but also how a marriage stays together.

This also might spark follow-up questions, not only regarding their marriage, but the marriage of the child’s parents. You need to be able to answer questions from a place of loving your child, regardless of what type of familial situation exists elsewhere or even within your own family dynamic.

How information is released

Another aspect to consider is how the couple in question wants to handle how information is disseminated. If it is a neighbor whose children are very close to your own, one or both of the parents might have insight as to their future plans and how those plans will affect the friendships of all of the children involved.

If it is a relative, it could be a little trickier. The relative in question might have additional insight, as to how to explain why their children, who have formed friendships with your children, are not present at family gatherings all of the time. Feelings also can get involved in these particular situations, and that can make things messy.

Your opinion of your relative’s ex-spouse might color how you describe them to your children, and you shouldn’t let it, according to the Chicago Tribune. Your relative might have a different view of their ex-spouse and might allow their positive aspects as a person to affect how the information regarding the break-up is disseminated.

For example, the ex-spouse of your relative might be a great parent, but was not a great spouse. You wouldn’t want to tell your children how awful this individual is, out of fear that your children will tell their children, which will color their perception of their parent. Regardless of how true the claim may be, it is not your place to sway the opinion of someone else’s children.

How it affects them

When introduced to the concept of divorce through the example of another couple close to them, children may speculate about the stability of their parents’ marriage, and it becomes important to reassure them that just because a relative or neighbor are going through a divorce with their spouse, it does not mean that their parents are going to experience the same thing. It may require explaining to them more about the institution of marriage and all that goes into it.

This also could spark a belief in your child that their parents’ marriage is a shining example that the neighbor or relative’s marriage could not live up, and while that is a flattering sentiment, it also is something to taper. It’s important for your child to understand that no marriage or relationship is perfect. The child needs to made aware that while their parents love one another and are happy, it does not make them perfect by any means and that striving perfection in future relationships should not be their goal as they mature.

If you are a divorced parent and your child is having questions regarding whether all parents end up divorced eventually, it’s important to remind the child that no matter what the feelings are between the ex-spouses, they still love their children. Do not let them become jaded by the examples of relationships in their lives and explain to them the importance of compatibility and getting to know someone before making a commitment to them.

Your children are the priority in this situation. As much as you would like to help your relative or neighbor and their possible children through the difficulties of divorce, your first obligation is to your children. Their perceptions of what it means to be married or divorced are important, as they mature and establish relationships of their own. You want those relationships to be based on trusting another person and the feelings that they have for them, rather than a preconceived perception inspired by another person’s dysfunctional relationship. In the big picture of their development, you need to put them first.

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