“We’re Getting a Divorce”—Breaking the News in the Best Way Possible
Preparing to tell your children about your impending divorce will not be easy, but with enough preparation and thought, you and your ex can deliver the news in a style that that will bring them the most comfort during this tumultuous time. See below for six tips to consider before having the conversation:
Tell Them Together (and Keep it Together)
In most circumstances, this news should come from you and your ex together. This way, though separating romantically, you are still seen as a unified parental front and can answer all initial questions as best you can together. This will be an incredibly tough conversation, and depending on the circumstances of your impending divorce, you may be in a particularly emotional and vulnerable state. Do your best to keep your emotions in check during this conversation. The more stable you appear, the more assured your children will be.
Pick the Right Time
The time that you tell your children should be strategic. Dr. Matt Hersh, a clinical psychologist with a focus on mindfulness, stresses that it’s important to tell all of your children at the same time so that they can all digest the news together. “Try to pick a day and time when there’s ample room to let you and your children process this news, rather than right before bed or school or some place out of the house where emotions can’t be readily expressed,” Dr. Hersh encourages. Additionally, it’s important to stress that you should tell your children when you are 100% sure about your divorce and once plans are in place. Dr. Hersh continues, “Telling your children that you’re ‘strongly considering it’ can only increase anxiety, stress, and safety/security fears in your children.”
Let Them Know You Will Be OK
Your children only know the two of you together, so while they’ll be concerned about how the divorce will impact their lives, they will also be concerned about you. Particularly for the parent leaving the home, there will be questions about where s/he will be living, will they be lonely without them, etc. Put on a brave face and answer these questions the best you can, reassuring your kids that you will both be fine.
Present the “New Schedule”
Your children will naturally have questions about how their lives will be impacted by the divorce. Do your best to think through their anticipated questions before having the conversation. The range may be from “where will I live?” to “who will pick me up from soccer on Thursday?” Dr. Kathleen Trainor, a clinical psychologist who focuses on treating anxiety in young people and founder of the TRAINOR Center, explains, “Kids need to know just prior to the separation who is leaving the home, where will he/she be, and when will they see that parent. They want to know what this change means for them.” Dr. Trainor also stresses how important it is for parents to project an ability to continue to co-parent them, even though they will not be living together anymore. One strategy could be helping your children see what will stay the same (example: you’ll still go to the same school, we are still your mom and dad, etc.), and what will be different (example: you’ll visit my new home on the weekends, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving separately, etc.)
Repeat: It’s Not Their Fault
If you can succeed at only one of these tips, this should be it. Be sure to clearly tell your children that the divorce is not their fault. Dr. Hersh continues, “Children are prone to blaming themselves for parents’ marital issues, particularly if children are sensitive by nature or already have a role in the family of acting out or taking up a lot of parents’ energy and time. You may need to have several conversations about this, even if you feel that your children ‘should’ know this.”
Don’t Speak Poorly About Your Ex
Depending on the circumstances of your breakup, it may be very hard to hold back some feelings you have towards your ex. Perhaps the breakup was entirely his/her fault, or perhaps it was a mutual decision. Both Dr. Hersh and Dr. Trainor agree that you do not want to put your children “in the middle” or forced to choose a side. It’s important to keep things unified and civil in front of the kids, but by all means, have an outlet to help yourself through this difficult time.
No one is ever “ready” to go through a divorce, but Dr. Trainor reminds us that kids are resilient. “They usually adjust to the ‘new normal’ especially if they experience their parents as happier.” Remember that transitions can be very hard, but with time, support, and love, your family will make it past this challenging time and hopefully your bond with your child(ren) will grow even stronger.
Written by Phase2Parenting
PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.