Telling Your Children that Mom and Dad are Divorcing
By: M. Scott Gordon
Divorce can be emotionally traumatic for the adults involved. Now imagine how disorientating it is for your children. One day they have both of their parents at home, and the next either Mom or Dad will move out and live in their own apartment.
Admittedly, some children will not be surprised by divorce. They hear and understand more than parents give them credit for, and they know when relationships are on the rocks. Nevertheless, being told “We are splitting up” is a heavy blow for even the savviest child. Follow these tips for speaking to your children about divorce.
Tell them Together
Both parents should be present when telling the children about the divorce. If only one breaks the news, then he or she might feel tempted to start placing blame on the other parent. By telling the children together, you present a united front. You also signal to the children that both parents will remain in their lives. Find a time when everyone can get together.
An exception to this rule exists if your spouse has been physically abusive to either you or the children. In this situation, for your own safety, you can tell the children without your spouse present, perhaps in consultation with a therapist.
Also, absolutely avoid telling one child and asking him to keep it a secret. This is a terrible burden on your children. It also tells the older child that he or she is responsible for protecting younger siblings from your divorce, which is unfair.
Clear Out the Entire Afternoon
If you are nervous about telling your children, you might want to drop the news in an offhanded manner as you drive them to soccer practice. That is a terrible idea. Parents need to “own” the divorce, as well as their children’s responses to it, and not try to avoid uncomfortable conversations. Instead, clear out the rest of the afternoon. Also hang around home after telling them, because your children might have questions and want to talk about it one or two hours later.
Now is not the time to start arguing that you have felt emotionally abandoned for years, or that the other parent has a new paramour. Your children are not really interested (even if they ask, “Why?”) and you will not score points by trashing the other parent in front of your children. If you need to work through your emotions—and many people do—then you should seek out a therapist to meet with on your own time. Don’t treat your children as your therapist.
If you need to answer the “Why?” question, come up with something honest but light on details. For example, “We have found we are not happy together” works for many people.
Tell Your Children You Love Them
Children need constant reinforcement that they are not to blame for the divorce and that you love them. Even if your child seems to be taking it in stride, they might be hiding their emotions. Children often feel fear of the future. As best as you can, tell them what will change after the divorce and that they will always be safe.
Consult with a Chicago Divorce Attorney
Is divorce on the horizon? If so, you should meet with a Chicago divorce lawyer as soon as possible to consider your options. Divorces are complicated, and you will need to make many hard decisions. The sooner you can begin to discuss the divorce, the better.
At M. Scott Gordon & Associates, we have helped countless men and women get the divorces they want. To schedule your free consultation, please contact us at 312-360-0250.