How To Tell Kids You’re Getting a Divorce
Dear Kristen, Please describe the conversation in which you broke the news about the divorce to your kids. -K
I’ve been asked a lot of questions about my divorce, but I am actually pretty amazed that I’ve never been asked how my ex and I talked to the kids about the divorce.
I guess it makes sense, really, since everyone’s situation is not the same. What I said to my kids might not work for yours, because well, we’re human and they’re human, and we all process this kind of information vastly different.
But like much of life’s experiences, I find it comforting to hear other peoples’ stories about similar situations that I might find myself in, because even if they don’t directly apply, I can always find something that does. And honestly, just hearing that someone went through it and survived (and that their kids survived), is therapeutic in and of itself.
If you’re wondering how to have the divorce conversation with your kids, here are my 5 tips to help you. Please keep in mind that I’m not a doctor nor am I a therapist, only sharing from my own personal experience.
1. Talk to a therapist: My personal situation was a bit complicated because we also included an out-of-state move into the mix, so I decided it would be best to speak to a therapist to get a better sense of how and when to talk to the kids. In our case, we decided that we would not tell the kids about the divorce until their dad was able to sell our house and move up to the same area in which we were living outside of Philadelphia. Between the move and the divorce, we thought it would be too overwhelming, and since he traveled a lot for work, the kids were accustomed to him being away for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned I was forced to scramble and tell my kids with my ex over Facetime. But having spoken to a therapist, I was prepared with how to tell them and what to say.
2. Act as a team, even if you don’t want to: It’s really important that you work together as a team to talk to the kids. Regardless of how you feel about your ex and the situation and everything about the situation, you need to put that aside and consider their feelings and emotions about the changes you are about to make to your kids’ lives.
This tends to be harder for the person who did not initiate the divorce, at least that was the case in my own experience. But hopefully you are both able to keep it together for however long it takes to talk to the kids. And better, when you are in front of the kids and individually alone with them. That means no negative talk about the ex and no blaming of the ex, no matter how tempting that might be.
3. Speak to older kids individually: Depending on your kids’ ages, I recommend separating them and speaking to them each privately. My two older children process things very differently, so we felt it was best (based on our therapist’s recommendation) to talk to them separately.
Then, we invited them to sit with the littler ones and help us tell them in a way that would make the most sense. This was remarkably helpful for both the older kids and the younger ones as well.
4. Keep it short and simple: You do not need to give your children any gory details about your divorce, only to let them know that you and your ex are not happy together and are going to be living separately. The biggest emphasis is that it has nothing to do with anything they (the kids) did, and that you and your ex love them very much. Yes, their lives are changing, their homes may be changing, but the one thing that is not going to change is your love for them. These are grown-up problems and have nothing to do with them.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
If it helps, write out what you’re going to say before hand so you have it. Memorize it even. Then allow them to ask you questions if they so choose. And be prepared to answer them, no matter how hard they are.
5. Accept all the feelings, no matter what they are: Your children are going to experience a range of emotions, not just when you tell them, but over a quite possibly long period of time. It is your job (and the job of your ex) to accept what they are experiencing, whether it’s anger, frustration, hurt or sadness. These feelings can be difficult to contain and hold, but they need to know that it’s safe for them to do so. This will be so helpful for them in the long run.