Telling your kids you’re getting a DIVORCE! In the top ten of the most dreaded conversations ever. Deciding how to tell the kids is bad, but answering their questions after can be worse. Lead with love and honesty, while also considering your child’s emotional maturity. Consider the questions below before you sit down with your kids.
1. Why? Usually, this is the toughest one to answer, mostly because you’re trying to answer that very question for yourself. To respond without your own pain and anger coming through to your child can be particularly challenging, because your child is looking for assurances. “If I know why this is happening, maybe I can fix it” Let them know that they are loved and that the change is going to be hard but will make everyone happier in time.
2. Are you going to get back together? For children, the idea that this is only temporary would be a much easier pill to swallow. Explaining the new normal and assuring them that both of their parents will always be there for them can help to soften the blow that you will not be getting back together.
3. Why don’t you love each other anymore? Code for, “do you still love me”, or “could you stop loving me someday, too”? Ultimately, this is the only thing that they really need to know. The questions will stop. The uncertainty will fade away. But they will test you through the entire process, just to make sure you still love them. So assure them that you do through both your words and actions.
4. Did I do something wrong? Your children only know you as Mom and Dad. They don’t typically think of their parents as a couple or as having some relationship outside of the family unit. So to them, the breakup of the marriage must be a family problem. And as a member of the family, maybe they have something to do with it. Their imaginations will run wild, so let them know that this divorce is a result of grown-up problem, not something they did wrong.
5. Do you two still love me? Children’s worlds revolve around them, and their young developing brains are matched by their young developing emotions. Your child has limited life experiences to rationalize what is happening to his family. Respect their emotions and allow them to feel and grieve in their own way, all while continuing to promise them that you both still love them every moment of the day.”
6. Are we going to move? Children often wonder how can they possibly survive divorce AND moving? If you’re not sure of this answer yet, tell them you don’t know and promise to tell them when you do. It can be scary for them to imagine moving away from schools and friends. But if that is what must happen, focus on the positives of this new adventure, and include them is some decision making.
7. Do I have to/get to choose who I want to live with? Despite their good or bad relationship with either parent, the idea of having to choose one of you over the other can keep children up at night. And having to talk to a judge about it? Insanity to their young brains. Grown up problems need grown ups to come up the solutions. This emotional burden should not be put upon your children. Let them know that they will not be asked to make this grown up decision.
8. When is this happening? Children need to plan as much as you do. Do they have to say goodbye to friends? Will they be living in a new place? New school? When will I see the mom/dad? Without some sort of timeline, children will lay in bed at night and imagine doomsday. They cannot control the divorce, so give them some control over this new phase in their lives. Creating a calendar together can give them some control and comfort.
9. What about my brother/sister? The idea that siblings could be separated may seem silly to you, but to children it can seem important that neither parent is alone. A sibling creates a built-in ally in the face of sudden and irrevocable change, and it’s a powerful tool for the children of the newly divorced. Use this time to reinforce that sibling bond by letting your children know that it is a bond that cannot be broken.
10. “What if I don’t want you to get a divorce? Kids are born with the innate ability to get what they need from their parents. From basic needs to the latest gadget on the market, they can be creative and relentless. Why should stopping this divorce from happening be outside of their wheelhouse? Stand firm and let them know that this is happening for the betterment of the family. “Mom and dad fight too much and it’s hurting us all. We want to make that stop”.