Divorce can be a challenging life transition, especially for your children. It can cause a significant disruption to the family system, often leaving everyone feeling as though the universe is drastically changing. Choosing when and how to tell your children that you and your spouse are divorcing can be an anxiety-provoking process. As parents, we want to do all that we can to protect our children from experiencing discomfort. So when we are presented with the responsibility of sharing this life-changing news, finding the best approach to meet your family’s needs is crucial.
When, Where & How
If possible, share the news when you and your spouse can both be present. This sends the message that the two of you are committed to collaborating as parents even though you will no longer be living together.
Talk to your spouse about appropriate timing and have the conversation in a place where your children will feel most comfortable. Try and allow time for the announcement itself, as well as for processing the information.
Be as honest as possible with your children, but do your best to send the right message…remember your children are not your friends. More specifically, taking into account your children’s developmental ages can give you guidance on how much information to share.
For example, with a younger child, you may approach the discussion by stating, “Mommy and Daddy are having trouble making each other happy. Divorce is something that adults do. It means that we will no longer be married to each other. Even though we will be apart, we still love you just as much…”
For a teen, you may need to offer more detail and reasoning for why the divorce is happening…”We aren’t very good at communicating with one another, and we haven’t been for some time. We’ve fallen out of love and we feel living apart will be the best decision for both of us...”
Acknowledge that your decision to divorce is not their fault. Your children need to know that it is not their responsibility to “fix” things.
Try not to place blame on your partner. It is important to model respect for one another even though differences may be present.
Consider the Emotional Side of Things
It is likely that your children will have various emotional responses to hearing the news. They may even experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. Encourage ongoing communication with your children. Listen to their thoughts and feelings. Ask them how they are doing. Be attentive to any emotional or behavioral setbacks. Your children need to know that they can ask you questions and rely on you for support when they feel confused or need to express their anger, worries or sadness about the situation.
Demonstrate your unconditional love and support by saying, “I love you” often. Communicate to your children that no matter what happens between you and your spouse, your love for them will never change. Children need to feel secure, especially during a life transition of this sort.
Discuss the changes that will be occurring. Talking about the logistics of how the divorce is going to affect school, time spent with each parent, as well as family and friends, extracurricular sports, etc. is a great way to help your children maintain the comfort of daily routines. Stability and structure is essential.
Be Mindful of Your Own Self-Care
As a parent, your health and well-being is of equal importance. Try and take time to eat and sleep well, exercise and participate in relaxing activities. Spending time with family and friends can also be a cathartic means to processing the divorce.
Maintain an optimistic attitude. Your approach to handling the divorce will have an influence on how your children cope with and adjust to the changes that are occurring.
Consider meeting with a therapist. Obtaining an objective opinion from a counselor can provide additional support for you, as well as your children. You never know, it may offer great opportunities for you and your family to grow in ways you’ve never anticipated.
The therapists at Metta Psychology Group are skilled in helping families navigate the challenges and transitions that come with divorce. Finding you “new normal” will take time and our psychologists are here to support you.