The Big Talk with Your Kids
Even if you feel positive about your decision to divorce, you’re probably dreading telling your children. Nobody enjoys telling kids that their parents are getting a divorce, even when everyone in the family agrees that it’s for the best. Be prepared for your children to be very distressed by this news, or for them to be less upset than you are. In other words, you have to be ready for any possible reaction from your children. These simple tips should take the dread out of the ‘big talk’ and help you prepare answers to your kids’ tricky questions.
The first piece of advice is also the simplest: tell your kids the truth about what’s going on. This doesn’t mean you should tell your children the intimate details of why you and your spouse are splitting. But your children need to know that you and your spouse will be living apart, that it’s not temporary, and that their lives will change as a result. It’s tempting to let your kids stay in denial about what divorce means, because it seems to make them happier. Your children need to overcome that initial denial, however, so that they can start accepting the reality of the divorce and seeing the positive sides of it.
Children love to ask ‘why’, and they will almost certainly ask why you want a divorce. When this question comes up, avoid the blame game. No matter what your ex may have done, it’s important to keep your resentments to yourself. Ideally, you and your spouse should have this conversation together, to send a message to your children that they still have two parents. This also will reassure kids that the divorce was a mutual decision, rather than one of you abandoning the other one. Remember that your children don’t see a failed partner when they look at your spouse; they see their parent. They want to admire your ex, not hear about their flaws.
Most importantly, emphasize that you both love your kids, and that you all will continue to be a family. If your children are mature enough to understand, you can explain that this change will make you and your spouse happier, which will actually make you better parents. Remind kids that they’re not losing a parent – they’re gaining two loving households. Your children may not be ready to see the positive aspects of your divorce yet, but it’s important to stay upbeat anyway.
Though you and your spouse should highlight the good when explaining your divorce, you shouldn’t expect totally cheerful reactions. Let your kids know that it’s okay to have positive, mixed, or negative feelings about this life change. Crying, yelling, and acting passive-aggressive are all normal. Let kids express their emotions without shaming or scolding them. Read their cues: some children will want time alone to process the news, while others will need hugs and reassurance. Just remember that the initial grief your children feel about this divorce will pass, but the way you react to their grief will stick with them. Show them that you respect their feelings – they’ll appreciate it.