Telling your children you are getting divorced is one of the hardest parts of your break-up
…and also, one that your children – and you – are going to remember for the rest of your lives. It’s really important to consider how you’ll tackle this before the time comes.
What you’re going to say to your child will of course vary according to their age and maturity, but the key is to tackle it together as a parenting team. In fact research shows that the most important predictors of how well your children will take the news depends on having a strong relationship with both parents (when possible); good parenting; and minimal exposure to conflict (See this article for a summary of some research).
Tell your children when you are all together
Acting as a parenting team means that you should break the news when you are together. It is best to do it when the whole family is there, even if the children are of different ages. It really reinforces the message that you are going to stay a family, just in a different form. And another important part of being a parenting team is not to blame the other parent for the divorce, even if one of you thinks the other is more to blame.
What to say
So if your child asks what happened, which they will – it’s important to choose your words carefully. My suggestion would be to explain that you are not getting on any more and need to separate.
Some adult children or older teenage children might need more information such as that one of you has met someone. You should still explain this in the context that you were not getting on so that the children do not feel they need to side.
The other child will be angry with the person having the affair or leaving. If you are the parent who is in the “good books”, it can be tempting to go along with this. However, the best way to help your children get through this time is to allow them to express their anger, but remind them that their father/mother still cares for them.
Key messages to get across
- So what should the important messages to your children be? I suggest the following:
- You are going to continue to work as a parenting team.
- You will both continue to see your child and be there for them.
- Your children are not to blame for the divorce. This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many children feel partly to blame for the break-up.
- Your children are loved and will continue to be loved
You will need to explain to your children several times
Another key point to remember is that you’re not going to get this done in one go. The children are going to ask several times what happened and the news will take time for them to process. So there will be opportunities to get across the important messages….. and don’t forget NOT to blame the other parent.
How did you tell your children? What would you like to have known before you told your children? Please share any tips and advice on the forum.
Books to help your kids with divorce:
It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear: A Read-Together Book for Parents and Young Children During Divorce by Vicki Lansky for ages 3-7
Living with Mum and Living with Dad: My 2 homes by Melanie Walsh for 3-5 ages
Mum and Dad Glue by Kes Gray for children 3-8
Dr Isabelle Hung is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and clinical psychologist. Having got through her own divorce just three years ago, she is now remarried and happy to report that divorce really is an opportunity for growth and positive change.