Many couples believe that deciding to divorce is the hardest thing they’ll ever do; that is, until they realize that they have to tell their children. While you have no control over how your children will react to the news, there are a few things you can do to help the initial conversation go more smoothly:
- Try to present the decision in as neutral a way as possible. The announcement of the divorce is not the time to start the blame game (Where children are concerned, there is never a good time to start the blame game).
- Give honest, concrete information at developmentally appropriate levels. Let them know what will be different after the divorce (i.e. that there will be two households) and what will remain the same (i.e. that they will still go to the same school).
- Emphasize that your decision to divorce has nothing to do with them. Let them know there is nothing they could have done to prevent the divorce from happening.
- Don’t be surprised if your children think only of themselves. Depending on their ages and developmental levels, some will be more self-focused than others, but for the most part, children are going to think about themselves first. Be ready for “selfish” sounding questions, like “who will pay for me to keep playing baseball?” and “who will drive me to school?”
- Accept a range of emotions, or no initial expression of emotion at all. Every feeling is okay – anger, relief, frustration, surprise, disbelief, sadness, excitement, etc. The same does not go for all behaviors (i.e. “I understand that you are angry, but you may not kick the dog”).
Though these tips are designed to help you through the initial talk, understand that the conversation about divorce will be on-going, and not just over the first few weeks or months, but potentially over the children’s lifetimes. As children get older and move through developmental stages, they often reinterpret past events through the lens of their newfound maturity. Your willingness to talk to them over and over will be an outward manifestation of your pledge to continue loving them.
Lastly, be kind to yourself through this process. There is no real “right way” to handle any particular situation with your children. You can simply do the best you can with the knowledge and resources you have available at the time.