How do you tell your children that you are going to divorce?
Breaking the news to children
One of the hardest parts of any divorce is telling the children. It is important that you tell them together about the divorce. It sends a clear message to your children that you are both capable of working together for their benefit. In addition, you have to tell all of the children at once so that each child hears the news directly from Mom and Dad and not from a sibling who heard it first. Let them understand that it was an adult decision; children need lots of reassurance that the divorce is not their fault. Reassure them that you are available and that you will always be there for them. Collectively and individually convey your unconditional love through words and actions. Make it clear to them that parents don’t divorce children. If your children are of different ages, do follow-ups with the older children in separate conversations.
The manner in which you break the news will affect the degree of their anxiety. Don’t let the meeting become a screaming match; the news will be difficult enough for them to handle so don’t cloud things further. Avoid the tendency to assign blame and try to incorporate the word ‘we’ when you’re explaining the decisions that have been made.
Let your children express their feelings. It is a fact that most parents only spend one and a half minutes per day actively listening to their children. Most of the time is spent giving instructions: ‘keep quiet’, ‘brush your teeth’, ‘comb your hair’, ‘get into bed’ and so on. Become active listeners and allow your children the time and freedom to express their own feelings.
Never try to win or lobby support from your children. Your children may try to be your friend out of fear of rejection, but in the end it will only confuse them. Children need to know that they can turn to you for support, not the other way around.
It is not important that you provide specific details about why you are planning a divorce, but your children may want to know why. Older children will know that this is a huge life change, and they may weigh that change against the reasons you give them. So be prepared to give some type of general explanation.
Your children will want to know where they will be living in future and with which parent, and what about their lives is going to change, so be honest about what you know and what you don’t know. The more detail you give to your children about where the departing parent will be living and when they will be seeing him/her, the better. They need to know that they will be able to maintain a quality relationship with both parents.
Parenting after divorce
You can divorce your spouse, but not your family. There are rules parents can follow that will make their lives easier post-divorce. It is extremely important for both parents to create what is called a ‘healthy post-divorce family’.
Realise that you may be completely out of sync with the each other. It may take months if not years for one of you to adjust to the reality of the divorce. It is not unusual for the parent who was considering divorce for a long time to be ready to move on quicker than the parent who may have been taken by surprise and is grieving the loss of the relationship. For the sake of your children, be respectful of these differences.
Don’t rush introducing a new partner. It’s vital that you keep new partners out of the picture for a while. The children must adapt first to the loss they have experienced.
Treat each other like business partners and give each other the respect that the position of parent demands. Many divorced couples treat their employees with more respect than they treat their exes. Yet, the job that has been entrusted to that person is far more important than any other in your life.
Share requests and communicate openly with each other. Let the children see that you communicate openly.
Listen attentively to your children when they speak to you. Encourage them to speak about their own concerns.
Don’t criticise each other. Children don’t need to be privy to adult conversations, and they don’t want to hear personal details about your relationship with their father/mother.
Don’t tell your children all of the unpleasant details of your divorce. Even if your ex was unfaithful. In the end, you may come to understand that you also contributed to the disintegration or your relationship. Feeding your children only one side of the story is misleading and immensely destructive. It is unfair to place your children in a position of having to side with one parent or the other.
Provide your children with routine, consistency and dependability.
Limit familial conflict at all costs. It is one of the most damaging things you can do to your children. Never criticise each other in front of your children. Children see themselves as extensions of their parents, and so they will feel like you are criticising them.
From the book “Everyone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation” – publisher by Random House, by Bertus Preller