Are you the child of a divorce? If so, do you remember when you realized that your parents were separating? My guess is that you do.What do you remember about it–Do you remember what room you were in? Or what you heard? What did you feel? Who comforted you? What was said? Did your parents tell you or did you overhear something? Was it in the context of an argument or was it presented to you calmly? Did your parents tell you the same story or were the stories conflicting?
A few years, I wrote a blog post about telling the children, and I thought it would be worth repeating–this is one of the most memorable moments in children’s lives, and it is a significant moment in your own divorce journey.
My clients, Luis and Rosa, have the daunting task of telling their four-year-old son about their upcoming separation and divorce. They have asked me for some suggestions about how to tell him.Here are some pointers I’ve gleaned over the years that might be useful for Luis and Rosa—and for you if you ever find yourself in that position.
Tips for Parents Talking to Kids About Divorce or Separation
- Create a safe atmosphere. Call a meeting at home, in a safe place, at a time when neither you nor the children have to run off to do something important. Make time and space for this–it is a significant event in the life of your family.
- Be united. You and your spouse should sit down with all of the children together. They will need reassurance from each of you.
- Tell all the kids together. You don’t want one child finding out from a sibling.It’s important that the message comes from you!
- Practice your lines. Go over what you want to say to them ahead of time, and make sure that you and your spouse are giving a uniform message. Some parents even rehearse their lines.
- This is no time for blame. Remember that your soon-to-be ex-spouse will not become your child’s ex-parent. They are your child’s only other parent.
- This is no time for attribution. It doesn’t matter whose idea it was first, all your child needs to know is that it is happening.
- No TMI!Your child needs practical information, in an age-appropriate language they can understand. They don’t need to know “grown-up” details.
- Tell the kids that it is not their fault.You might think this is obvious, but it may not be to them. And make sure they understand that it isn’t their job to bring you back together.
- Reassure them that you are still their parents—and that you will continue to love them and are not abandoning them.
- Acknowledge their pain, their curiosity, their worries. Again, reassure them.
- Be early. Tell them at a time when you can observe their behavior afterward.Don’t tell them right before bedtime. Children have active imaginations and their fears can get the better of them.
- Be honest. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
- Put yourself in their little shoes. Try to see things from your child’s point of view.
- Act like a grown-up. It’s ok to shed some tears, but remember that they need your reassurance, your protection, and your love.
Help your children know that this is a family transition, not the end of their family. Help them understand (in words and actions) that you are still the same grown-up who you’ve been all along, and that they are safe with you and with the other parent. After all, that’s all that really matters