Divorce is tough on everyone involved, but especially on children. If you’re going through a divorce, it is important to be clear and honest with your children, and to minimize the repercussions in their lives.
Before you can be honest and clear with your kids about your divorce, you need to be honest and clear with yourself. Why are you splitting up with your spouse? Write down a list of reasons and keep them short and to the point. This will help you be clear about what’s going on in conversations with your children, as well as in other situations, such as couple’s counseling, where you will want to clearly express your needs and frustration.
If possible, talk with your spouse before you talk to your children, and make sure you’re on the same page. Avoid conflicts and work together to explain what’s going on, so they get the same loving, reassuring message from both of you. Both of you should agree to a straightforward and simple explanation of what’s happening, and you both need to stick to it.
Children, particularly young children, crave stability in the family and are likely to be very confused when they find out their parents are splitting up. They will sometimes think it is their fault their parents are getting a divorce, and it’s vital you reassure them that they are not to blame. [RELATED: What to Do When Your Spouse Wants a Divorce ]
Sit down with your children and have an honest conversation, explaining things clearly in terms they can understand. Don’t use confusing adult expressions or complicated explanations. Keep it simple and straightforward. Don’t blame your spouse, even if you’re angry at them, which you certainly are likely to be. Tell your kids that you and your spouse don’t get along anymore, that sometimes this happens, and that you’re separating.
Be respectful of each other when discussing the divorce with your children. Don’t call your spouse names or belittle them or say you hate them and never should have married them. No matter what white hot fury you’re feeling inside, don’t express it in front of your kids. Find a safe and healthy way to release that anger, whether through exercise or therapy or locking yourself in a place where no one can hear and screaming for a while.
Your children may pepper you with questions – try to answer them honestly, from the heart. Or they may lapse into brooding silence. Let them have their own reaction and their own feelings about what’s going on – don’t try to stop them from being angry, upset, or sad. Learning to name and identify and deal with their own emotions is an important thing for children. Give them plenty of chances to talk about how they feel, and really listen to them. Help them understand that their feelings of anger, fear, sadness or anxiety are normal. They may be angry at you, and though it is uncomfortable, you should give them the opportunity to express that anger.
Your kids may have friends whose parents are divorced, and you can use that as an example of what sometimes happens – the two parents end up living in separate places, but they still love their children and are involved in their lives. A good thing to remind your children is that parents and kids never get divorced and never stop loving each other.
Children really need stability, so try and keep some good routines going in their lives. Don’t change the way you get ready for school, or their sports or hobbies, if at all possible. If they’ve always taken a bath and heard a bedtime story before going to sleep, keep that routine going even in a new home or in two different houses.
Let them know as early as possible that some things will probably change, like their address or school if you have to move. They may end up with two homes and two addresses. They may ask about whether they’ll get to stay in school with their friends, and you should reassure them that you will do as much as you can to help that happen. If they will have to change schools, be honest about it, though. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, be honest about that, too.
Children want to be reassured that both of you still love them, that both of you will still be deeply involved in their lives – calling, texting, emailing, sending cards, taking them places, spending time with them, teaching them. Emphasize this in your conversations with them. Reassure them frequently.
Your children want you to talk to them, not give them messages for your spouse. Don’t say, “Tell your mother she needs to …” or “Remind your father he needs to …”
Your kids are not a message service. If you need to tell your spouse something, tell them yourself.
It’s important for you to spend time with your kids, enjoying their company, during your divorce and afterwards. You yourself may be quite confused, depressed, angry and frustrated, but by going out and having fun with your children you will keep some joy in your life. Although you and your spouse were not able to work through your problems and stay together, it’s vital for you to remind yourself of the blessing of children that came from your marriage. So go out and have fun with them.
Wishing you all the best through the divorce. [RELATED: How to Get Through a Bad Breakup ]