When you and your spouse have decided to separate, there are dozens of vital decisions to make. The one with the most long-term effect will be how you communicate the divorce to your children. The chances are that your children (depending on their age) are already aware that something is amiss. Kids are more perceptive than we give them credit for.
Here are some practical tips for having this conversation with your kids:
- Make sure there is nothing scheduled for after the conversation – Allow your children as much time as they need to adjust to the news.
- Don’t talk about the divorce until you’ve both finalized the decision – About 2 weeks prior to separation is good timing; it’s enough to allow children to adjust to the news and spend time with the parent who’s moving out without forcing them to live in the tension for too long.
- Treat the situation as an ongoing conversation – Kids don’t have the emotional vocabulary to process divorce in one sitting. They’ll have continuing questions and concerns—encourage them to come to you for anything they need to know over the next few days and weeks.
- Make sure you’re both present for the conversation – Having both of you there means your kids will know this is both of your decision. Even if that’s not true, your children’s sense of security depends on you two being a team.
- Use the word “we” a lot – We cannot stress this enough: do not blame each other or even hint that there is disagreement. If you appear to resent each other, your children may interpret it to be the “fault” of one of the parents. No one deserves that, least of all your children.
Here’s what you need to understand:
Children are naturally self-centered. Not in a bad way, mind you—that’s simply part of their development. They learn about themselves first, then others. As a result, any major shifts or changes in their life will give rise to three questions:
- How will this affect me?
- How did I cause this?
- Do they still love me?
It is vital that you communicate that this isn’t their fault. Externalize the cause—highlight that you and your spouse simply cannot work out your differences, or need to be apart for your sakes. Encourage your kids to show love and affection to the other parent (even if this is difficult for you). Put aside any pettiness or bitterness you’re working through—no private feud is worth endangering their relationship with either of their parents.
The key to any divorce conversation is to provide your children with space for their needs. Do they need to cry, yell, and slam a door? Be okay with that. Will they be worried about how the divorce will affect their daily routine? Be ready to field those questions. Will they need to be reassured of your love several times a day over the next few weeks? Be vocally affectionate.
If you have any more questions about your divorce, feel free to explore our blog or read our divorce page. The law firm of Gille Law Group is more than happy to answer your questions.