Divorce is a frequent occurrence in the United States: it’s estimated that between 40 and 50% of married couples won’t last. But no matter how often it happens or how many other kids also have divorced parents, children won’t find the news easy to digest. Feelings of loss, anxiety, and fear are all too common.
Parents are often underprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the situation.
In this guide, we’ll help you with the process of breaking the news to your children, how to maintain a civil relationship with your ex, and techniques you can use to provide your kids with support throughout.
Helping Kids Cope with Separation and Divorce
How to Break the News
Perhaps the most important part of the process is breaking the news to your children. Parents dread this part, often avoiding a proper sit-down altogether (hint: don’t do this). Here’s our advice:
Are you sure? Ask yourselves this question first: are you 100% sure you want to divorce or separate? This isn’t an accusation or a request to try and save the marriage (often divorce is the best option considering the circumstances!). But the worst thing you can do is give your kids the painful news of divorce, only to take it back at a later date. This emotional rollercoaster ride is not one you should subject your kids to.
Both parents should be present. Don’t leave this part to one of the parents. Both parents should present a united front on the issue, with the emphasis on this being a joint decision. The message sent is clear: even if you’ll no longer be a couple, you’ll still be together for the kids.
Practice what you’re going to say. You don’t want to give mixed messages, nor do you want to an argument to break out due to conflicting reasons or opinions. Before you break the news to your children, practice what you’re going to say. Write it down, meet up, and have a trial run. It may feel a little silly and it can sometimes be hard to do this with someone you’re about to divorce, but it’s an incredibly helpful component of the process.
Tell the truth, but spare them the details. When you break the news to your kids, don’t lie. It may be tempting to try and sugarcoat the divorce, but it’s important that you always tell the truth. However, there’s no point in telling them things they don’t need to know. Leave affairs, gambling debts, and fights out of the conversation.
Tell Them What to Expect
Children like routine and knowing what they should expect. A divorce will rock the boat, of course, but if you sensitively present the ‘new normal’, they’ll find the transition far easier to cope with.
Make an effort to reassure your children. Let them know that you still love them the same as before and that they’ll be spending time with both parents. Be clear about the exact details: for example, tell them that they’ll be spending most weekends with mommy and weekdays with daddy.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Discussing the divorce should always be an option, and not just limited to when you first break the news. Encourage your children to be open, and to ask questions whenever they want. Their opinions, thoughts, and feelings should be valued.
You should also be willing to let your children process their feelings over time. Be okay with initial disappointment, for example. Don’t shut down your children’s negative reaction to the news; divorce is not an ideal situation, no matter how you spin it.
Invest In Your Relationship with Your Ex-Partner
For some parents, this advice can come off as a little counterintuitive. But it’s important to create a healthy relationship with your ex-partner. While becoming proper friends may be a bit of a stretch, you should do your very best to avoid active conflict.
Many parents sometimes can’t fight the urge to say something negative about their exes. They’ll come out with snide remarks, will try to ‘win’ their kids for their side, and will let their own negative feelings about their ex-partner seep into conversations. Avoid doing this.
You need to invest in your relationship with your ex-partner. You don’t have to be best friends, and spending time together as a family may be out of the question (though you should try!). But the bare minimum your children deserve is for you to act civil towards one another.
Finally, Don’t Blame Yourself
When it comes to their children, parents are quick to blame themselves. Some will be tempted to reconcile, even if it’s the worst possible thing to do (we’re not saying it always is!). The reason? Guilt. You may think that your child will suffer as a result, for example.
But you’re going to have to let go of that guilt. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ life for your kids, and you getting a divorce isn’t going to shatter that unrealistic expectation. Work together as parents, don’t play the blame game, and do your best to create a new situation that your kids can thrive in.
Tanya is a writer and a single mom of two boys. To learn more about divorce, you can visit her blog.