We understand this can be nerve-wracking. None of us want to hurt our kids and put them through difficult circumstances. But you’ve already decided to end the marriage and the children deserve to know and understand as soon as possible. Hopefully you and your Ex can put the needs of the kids first and come together to work out a strategy to best break this news.
Timing – This might seem obvious but it should be the most optimal time. This means steer clear of birthdays, Halloween, Christmas, other important family holidays. If your child has an important game or performance in a school play or cramming for finals, don’t do it while they are preparing for these events. It’s important to respect the things going on in their life. Life is busy and filled with things, so I know there is no ideal “good” time but keeping the above guidelines in mind will help you figure out when to have this conversation.
The Discussion –What you say does differ a bit depending on the age of your child. We’ve written this based on a child in the 7-17 age bracket.
Your dad and I have something important to tell you. We have decided to get a divorce, we are not going to stay married anymore. We love you very much and this is not your fault in any way. We just cannot make it work to continue on as a married couple. Your dad (or I) will be moving out of the house in (insert time )2 weeks – 1 month. You will live with both of us and we will work out a schedule. We are really sorry, love you and very committed to you as parents. Do you have any questions?
If they ask why or did someone cheat or anything too personal, it’s best to not answer and not put blame on any one parent. You can answer with “There are some personal reasons why we decided to Divorce”. Even if your child has heard you fight or thinks they know the reasons, they really don’t need more information as to the details. They may think they want to know but this is actually stressful for them in the long term. Marriage and divorce are adult circumstances.
They might not ask anything or be in shock and surprised, which is normal. As the days and weeks go on, give them time to process and make sure they know they can always come and talk through their feelings. You should check in on them from time to time. After the discussion, try to all do something together. Go out for pizza, watch a movie. Nothing major but a little bit normal. As much as possible try to do things all together as a family per your normal routine for the next few days. And then openly try to get your child to open up and talk about it, but don’t push too hard. This is an ongoing conversation that could develop over time.
As things progress throughout the divorce and moving day comes near, be open and communicate the progress. “My new place is almost ready, do you want to come with me to pick out your new bedding?” “Your dad is moving out in 2 weeks, let’s help split up the kitchen items so that you have dishes you like to use at my house and at your dad’s house.”
It is a difficult process and time, but as long as your kids know you are there for them with love and open ears and arms, you will get through this.