Telling the Kids about Your Divorce

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It’s Time: Telling the Kids

We understand this can be nerve-wracking. None of us want to hurt our kids and put them through difficult circumstances. But you’ve 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. Regardless of whether you have his help, telling the kids will be challenging, so we want to share some tips to make it go as well as it can.

Timing

This might seem obvious, but consider your timing. This means steer clear of birthdays, Halloween, Christmas, other important family holidays. Don’t do it the week before finals or when they have a big game or important performance in the school play.  Ditto for prom weekend.  It’s important to respect the things going on in their life.

It’s also important not to go the other way and keep putting off telling the kids.  Life is always busy; that can’t be an excuse to procrastinate.  The kids deserve to know, especially if other people are starting to get the news.  The last thing you want is for them to hear it from someone else before you.  It’s about balance: don’t tell them amidst major life events, but tell them as soon as you can.

The Conversation

What you say differs depending on the age of your child. We’ve written this based on a child in the 7-17 age range.  If your children are younger, you’ll use even simpler language.  You want to keep it clear, simple, and direct.  The biggest things you must communicate is that (1) you still love them and will take care of them, and (2) it is not their fault.  Kids often believe that something they did brought this on, even if they don’t say it.  They have no control in this situation, and it feels scary to them, so you need to reassure them that you’ve made a plan for their care.

Here is a sample script of what you might say:

“Your dad and I have something important to tell you. We have decided to get a divorce, so 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.  We love you and very committed to you as parents. Do you have any questions?”

Give them plenty of time to let this information sink in and to ask questions.  This can be very uncomfortable for parents, as it is hard to watch your children suffer, especially when you are causing their pain.  But if you can be present for them, you will help them tremendously.

If they ask why, whether someone cheated, or anything too personal, it’s best not to put blame on any one parent. You can answer with “There are some personal reasons why we decided to divorce.”  You might say that you no longer love each other in that way but that you will always love them, no matter what. 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.

Ongoing Communication

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 try to get your child to open up and talk about it, but don’t push too hard. This is an ongoing conversation that will 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.