While it’s easier to ignore any comments or judgment about your decision to divorce from outside sources, such as friends or family, you are going to have a much tougher time dealing with the pressure from your children. Divorce is going to have a major impact on their lives, and you owe them an explanation.
This will be one of the most uncomfortable conversations you will have regarding your divorce, but it is necessary to tell your children about the decision in a way that will mitigate confusion and guilt, while aiding acceptance.
Although everyone’s situation will be different and variations are inevitable based on the children’s age and circumstances, here are a couple of general tips to keep in mind when breaking the news of your divorce to your child.
Plan it out
This is going to be a delicate conversation, and it would be best to have some kind of outline ahead of time as to who is going to say what, and when. It is best to have as much post-divorce information agreed upon as possible, such as who will be moving after the divorce is finalize, which parent they will be living with, how the parenting plan will work, etc. The more information you can give them that is already determined, the easier the transition will be.
Tell your children together
No matter how deep the resentment between you and your spouse may go, it is important that you suck it up and put on a united front for the sake of the kids. Telling them without the other parent creates confusion, makes the decision seem one-sided and is unfair to both your soon-to-be ex, as well as your children. You owe it to your kids to put aside your differences for one conversation.
Wait until you are absolutely certain the divorce is happening
Telling your children that you are considering divorce creates pointless emotional distress, as your children will needlessly contemplate why this is happening. Try and wait until the process is already moving forward and you have exhausted other techniques to try to repair your relationship, such as counseling.
Pick the ideal opportunity
This conversation is going to be unpleasant no matter when you decide to have it, but try to pick times where your children will have time to process the difficult news without it interrupting their daily routine. This means don’t do it on a school day or when you or your spouse have to work — you both need to be available for support, because there is no telling how your child will take the news.
Share only what is necessary
The age of your children will determine the level of detail you will need to share. Younger children, while more emotionally vulnerable, don’t need to hear the nitty-gritty details of why your marriage didn’t work out. Meanwhile, older children may require a little more information to fully process the split — but that doesn’t mean to take it overboard with the sharing. Remember that kids are more perceptive than you think, and the older they get, the more signs they have probably caught on to leading up to the divorce and the more subtext they will catch in what you tell them during the talk.
Don’t blame each other
Most likely, both you and your spouse will have different ideas of what exactly went wrong in the marriage. To avoid confusing your children and creating unnecessary tension, pick a reason that absolves personal blame from one another and continually use that as the reason when it comes up in the future. Both parents deserve a relationship with the child that is untarnished by either side’s often biased opinion.
Make sure they know it’s not their fault
Many children instinctively turn the blame for their parents’ breakup on themselves when trying to come to terms with why the divorce is happening. It is your job to continually reiterate that it was not his or her fault your relationship grew apart, and that it was a force outside of anyone’s control. It may take a while before this concept sinks in, so both you and your soon-to-be ex need to consistently remind them that they are not to blame.
Reinforce that both parents still love them
It may seem obvious, but children can take this news very hard and it is particularly important now more than ever to reiterate that they still have the unconditional love of both parents. It can seem very confusing when one parent is moving out, and a child can easily misinterpret that as that parent no longer loving them.
This is particularly difficult when the court orders a custody schedule that is not 50/50 legal and physical. Unfortunately, that is the case for most fathers, who are usually ordered much less time than they desire with their children. It can be difficult to explain to younger children that you want to spend more time with them, but cannot.
There is no easy way to combat this, but explaining the situation as best you can for their age and maturity level, and ensuring you consistently reassure them that you still love them is a place to start. Hopefully, your ex isn’t too bitter and can help reinforce this instead of attacking you behind your back.
There is no perfect way to tell your kids you are getting a divorce, and these suggestions obviously won’t work for everyone. But if you are completely lost as to how you should even begin to bring up this unpleasant conversation, this should give you a place to start.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”