Understandably, telling your children that you’re planning on getting a divorce is one of the harder conversations you’ll have with them. Similarly, it may be some of the hardest news they’ll hear in their childhood. While it’s important to understand the gravity of the conversation to be had, don’t let the fact that it will initially be difficult for everyone keep you from doing what is best for you and the family as a whole.
If you recognize that you as an individual, and your family as a unit, would be happier and more functional after a divorce—stick with that. It’s not uncommon for people to put off divorce entirely in order to avoid hurting their kids. While this may be honorable in theory, your kids can tell when you’re unhappy in a marriage, which in turn can actually be more damaging. If you’re contemplating divorce and are at a point where you need to tell your children, we’ve given a few pieces of advice to help make the conversation as healthy as possible:
Think Through the Conversation Beforehand
Avoid entering this conversation with your children on a “whim”. Being such a sensitive matter, it’s important that you think through the details of what you want to say, and thus are prepared for the reactions your children may have.
Think through what primary points you want to make and ingrain in their minds via the conversation. For example, perhaps you want to emphasize that this has nothing to do with them, and is in no way their fault. Maybe you want to make sure they hear and understand that even though you’ll be divorcing, you will all still be a family, and everyone will still see each other. Alternatively, you’ll likely want to reiterate a few times that you’re still their mom and dad, and that you love them just the same.
Whatever you decide to say, make sure you’ve thought through the primary points you want to bring forth, so that you’re prepared. Additionally, this conversation with your children should not be a time for you to vent or process the news yourself. To the best of your ability, go through that process first with other adults or counselors who are adept to hear your thoughts and opinions on the matter. Your children, however, should not be those people. That’s not to say you shouldn’t cry—it’s a heartbreaking conversation and it’s okay to mourn with your kids—but don’t make this conversation about your own frustrations with your ex.
Present the News as a Unit
If possible, it can be helpful for children to hear this news from both their mom and dad as a unit. If you and your ex are amicable and are comfortable being together, have this conversation with your children as a unit—this will in turn show them that despite a divorce you can still work as a team, and will likely make the news feel a little less daunting.
Understandably, presenting the news together is not always a reality. By the time a divorce comes forth, couples are often at the end of their rope and may be uncomfortable being around their spouse. If you aren’t comfortable having the conversation with your ex, at least speak with them beforehand and try to come to an agreement on the best way to tell the kids. If you both can agree to present the decision as a “we” choice rather than a “him or her” choice, it can help eliminate finger pointing or blaming.
While it may be tempting to let your children know that you’ve tried your hardest, but despite your best efforts your ex has just made it too difficult, it is not beneficial for them to hear that. Remember that this conversation is not about you, it’s not about winning favor from your children, and it’s not a time for accusations or bitterness. As difficult as it may be, putting on a strong face and presenting the news as a united front will prevent your children from feeling bitter towards one parent, and in turn will facilitate healthy relationships.
As with any difficult news, it’s going to take time for your kids to process the situation, and they may go through a string of different emotions over a period. For this reason, it’s important that you stay up to date with how they’re doing and how they’re feeling. As the adult, it’s important that you initiate these conversations and make an effort to touch base. If you have more than one child, it’s wise to try and make an effort to get some one-on-one time in with each kid so that you can hear their individual thoughts, fears or concerns.
Telling your children that you’re getting a divorce will be a difficult conversation to have. Regardless, don’t let this fear keep you from doing what is right for you and your family. If you’re at a point in your marriage where staying together is doing more harm than good, divorce may be the best option, and likely there will come a point in time where your children will recognize that as well.
When the time comes to tell your kids that you’re getting a divorce, make sure you’ve thought through the conversation beforehand, that you and your ex approach the topic as a unit, and that you’re intentional with following up and staying connected with them. Landerholm Family Law understands the importance of maintaining a healthy family dynamic throughout divorce, and we’re prepared to help make any divorce or child custody case as seamless as possible. Call us today at (503) 227-0200 to set up a consultation.