After tons of struggles and rethinking, you finally made the decision to divorce. It’s okay. Divorce is sometimes the only thing you can do, and it’s often the best thing you could do for yourself in the given situation. Life will go on. But there is one heartbreaking moment that can never be easy: telling your child about your divorce.
Many parents wonder whether or not they should tell the child right away. Maybe your partner still hasn’t moved out, so you think you can postpone the difficult conversation. Maybe your child thinks the other parent is on a vacation, so you figure you have plenty of time before you have no other choice but to tell.
Children are incredibly intuitive. Maybe you think they have no idea about what’s going on because you and your partner were trying to keep your arguments behind closed doors. You better believe it: your children already sense there’s something wrong. If you’re absolutely sure about the divorce, then they need to know. As soon as possible!
Yes – your child is going to be heartbroken. This cannot and will not be easy for them. You can, however, make it easier if you approach telling your child from the right angle. If you’re calm, comforting, loving, and supportive, you can minimize your child’s trauma and heartbreak when you break the news.
Here are 4 tips for telling your child about your divorce.
It’s not going to be easy, but you have to do this right so that all of you can move on to the next chapter in your family’s life.
1. Be There – Both of You
The parents should be together when they tell their child. At this point, the connection between you two is not that great. That’s understandable. Still, you have to settle down for a moment and do what’s best for your child. Calm down, make a truce and promise that you won’t yell at each other, say hurtful things, or show any signs of impatience to one another in front of the child. That would hurt them really bad.
This conversation will trigger your child’s insecurity. What’s the future going to be like? What are they going to do without the concept of a family as they knew it?
When both partners sit down to talk to the child, the insecurity won’t be that great. They will see that both of them are still there, and they will believe when you say that that’s not going to change.
- Before you talk to your child, talk to your partner. Figure out what the parenting plan will be. Hopefully, this is a peaceful divorce and you can do that. When you promise your child that both of you will see them regularly and you commit to that promise, this process will be much easier to handle.
- If you have more than one child, bring them together. The entire family should have this conversation in a group. If, however, the age difference is big and you believe that the reaction of the older child might seriously upset the younger one, you might want to have the talk separately.
- Your child knows you love them. Still, it’s important to say the words at this point. “Mommy and daddy love you very much and that’s never going to change.”
- Do not place the child in the middle of your arguments. Never do that!
2. Pick the Right Timing
Of course, it’s important to tell your child as soon as possible, but the timing should still be right.
- Your child is calm before bedtime, so you might think it’s the perfect timing. It’s not. You’ll just awaken the wandering mind at night, and that can be a dangerous thing. They will start making all kinds of bad scenarios and assume the situation is even worse than it already is.
- Don’t tell them around birthdays or holidays. Holidays are like a test of how happy your family can be. All other families seem so happy. Your child would be crushed beyond what you can imagine. If you’re wondering why so many people hate holidays, you better believe it: it’s the result of childhood trauma. So no; birthdays and holidays are not the right timing. Wait for those moments to pass.
- Don’t have this conversation in a public place. You know that your child will have some kind of reaction. You might face crying, yelling, anger, or extreme sadness. You might feel like if you tell them in a restaurant, they will have to control their reaction, which will make it easier for you. But control is not something you want. Your kid has to deal with those strong emotions. Suppressing their feelings will ensure that they will never heal from this loss.
3. Tell Them All They Need to Know (Without Blaming Your Ex or Yourself)
Maybe your partner cheated on you. Maybe you were the one who cheated. Maybe it simply doesn’t work because of other reasons. But whatever the case is, you’ve hurt each other. Your child doesn’t need to know the messy details of the divorce. Yes, you’ll get the question. Your kid will want to know why you’re doing this. If you start providing that information, however, you’ll inevitably start placing blame on the other parent.
- If your child starts blaming the other parent, be ready to defend them. “Dad, you’ve always been so bad with mom!” If you hear something like this, explain that it wasn’t that way. Your kid should not nurture negative emotions towards any of the parents. You want them to grow with a healthy mindset, despite the fact that the parents are no longer together.
- No matter how you feel, do not assign any blame to anyone. Present the divorce as a decision you came to together. It’s the best decision for the entire family and it’s certainly not anyone’s fault.
- One universal explanation that’s suitable for all situations is “Mom and dad are just not happy together anymore.”
- Answer all their questions as honestly as possible. The child will want to know where they will live, where they will go to school, and how often they will see the other parent. Be prepared to give that information, so you’ll leave them with less insecurity.
4. Be Ready to Support Your Child in Every Possible Way
This won’t be a one-time discussion that you can resolve in an hour. It’s a process, and you’ll have to approach it that way.
Your child will have more questions. They will ask the same questions tomorrow again. No matter how many times you have to repeat that you love them, you must do it with patience.
- As the days go by, your child might start feeling blame. They will remember the times when they weren’t behaving well and they will assume that your divorce has something to do with that. Watch out for these symptoms! Reassure your kid that the decision for the divorce has nothing to do with them.
- Your child might start feeling shame, too. They won’t want to invite friends over. Maybe they won’t want to go to school. It’s important to support them through this process, no matter how difficult their behavior gets. If they skip a few days at school, help them with their homework. If you don’t have the strength for that, consider hiring a tutor.
- Encourage your child to express their feelings after you tell them. They might want to stay in their room. They might cry or shout. Crying is okay, but it’s important for your child to express how they really feel and what they really think. That’s the only way for you to help them deal with those feelings – through conversation.
It’s a Heartbreak, Nevertheless
You cannot expect your child to be happy about this news. You know how difficult telling your child about your divorce will be, but it’s still important to do it the right way. Stay as calm as possible, reassure your child that you will both love her forever, and tell your child that everything is going to be all right.
Joseph McLean is a journalist and a traveler. He changed his life after discovering the concept of mindfulness. He spends his days assignment writing, blogging, reading, and making meaningful connections with people. www.assignmentmasters.org