Five Considerations When Telling Your Children You Are Getting Divorced

A mother and father are having a serious talk with their son.You and your spouse have decided to divorce. It is difficult enough that you are experiencing a major upheaval in your life. In addition to the feelings you may have of fear, anxiety, anger, or frustration, you also have children. Their lives are changing as well. You hope they haven’t been affected too much by the tension between you and your soon-to-be ex, but you don’t know for sure. What is the best way to tell them? The following is a list of some of the ideas you might want to consider:

1. Tell your children together. The strongest message you want your children to have is that while your relationship with their other parent is changing, you are both still their parents and that will not change. They need the most important adults in their lives to provide a safety net for the transitions that are about to happen. When you tell them together, it minimizes the possibility that they will get different information or tell each of you something different about their reactions.

2. What about my feelings? The more you keep your hurt and negative feelings to a minimum, the easier it will be for your children to not feel the need to take care of you when they need you to take care of them. You are, however, human and expressing sadness about the divorce is appropriate and helpful to your children in guiding them through their own feelings. How you manage your negative feelings will be an important

ingredient in how they experience the divorce at the beginning of the process and for years to come. The less they are exposed to the tender underbelly of your experience the easier it will be for them. Do not malign the other parent. Allow your children to keep the loving feelings they have for both of you.

3. Follow their lead. Along the developmental spectrum of their ages, children will need different information and ask different questions. However, all children tend to want to know about the logistics: where will they live, will they continue to go to the same school, can they still see their friends, and how will the holidays work? After giving them the news, allow them to ask the questions that are important to them. Questions may not all come out at the same time. New questions might come up over subsequent days, weeks, or months. Wait for them to let you know what they are ready to hear about. They are excellent guides. It is also possible there will not be any questions right away. They might be angry and resentful at first and not want to talk. Give them time to be ready for more information and they will let you know when that occurs. Plan with the other parent about how you want to answer their questions. While you cannot possibly anticipate all the questions they might have, you can prepare together for many of them, taking the time to make agreements about what you want them to know and how to tell them.

4. Choose your words carefully. Talk ahead of time about the “divorce story.” This is a part of the collaborative divorce methodology. Create the story you want your children to have about why the divorce is happening. Take special care to make sure they understand that it is not their fault. Younger children can believe their parents are fighting because of something they did and now the fight has gotten so big that the family is ending. The “divorce story” is also what you are planning on telling people in your community, should you choose to tell them anything at all. Be aware that if the story you tell your children and the story that is out in the world are not the same, there is a good chance your children will hear it anyway, especially when they are older. Plan the story so there isn’t a good parent and a bad parent. Your child’s ability to love both parents is a major factor in how they experience your divorce and it’s aftermath. If the information they are given is negative and they believe one parent is hurting the other, it is a difficult burden for them to bear. Children believe in loyalty and when they are asked to have divided loyalties, it is very confusing for therm and often ends in a child’s becoming angry for being put in the middle.

5. Keep the conflict away from them. Through years of extensive research, it is known that the number one contributor to children having a negative experience of their parent’s divorce is conflict. When conflict is absent, the transition from the pre-divorce to post-divorce family is less difficult. With conflict, children carry the scars of the battle between their parents into their own adult relationships.

While this is not a complete list of important considerations, it is a place to start in thinking about how to help your children receive the news that their world is shifting and that they will also be alright.

© Copyright 2011 by Shendl Tuchman, PsyD, therapist in San Ramon, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 11 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Sandra

    Sandra

    March 4th, 2011 at 5:45 AM

    I so regret how I told my boys that their dad and I were getting a divorce. I was so caught up in my own anger and sadness when that decision was made that I really did not pad that fall for them and I will forveer feel terrible about that. I laid it on the line about how much we would be losing and could have made it so much easier for them if only my ex and I had sat them all down and done that talk together.

  • Julian

    Julian

    March 4th, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    The place of stay is what is the most dramatic thing to happen if a couple goes in for a divorce and this results in the kid not having both the parents around at the same time.Although kids that are in their teens could probably understand this it becomes particularly difficult for younger children and that is when sitting down and talking with the kids becomes so important.

  • Olivia

    Olivia

    March 4th, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    I feel for Sandra and her experience. I think that for many of us our first instinct would be to tell the kids exactly what happened and why the other partner is wrong. But I think that if we step back all of us are smart enough to know that this is being selfish, that the kids deserve better than this. Sometimes they don’t need to know everything. They are fragile, and really all they need to know is that things may be changing for the parents but that you are going to do everything that you can to make sure that they are ok.

  • Cate

    Cate

    March 5th, 2011 at 6:24 AM

    Try to find a way to tell them that does not seem to place any of the blame on them. Can you imagine how a child would grow to feel about that, going through life thinking that their parents divorce was their fault? I would never want to stick my child with feeling that kind of guilt over something that is blatantly untrue. Allow them to have a way to voice their concerns, but never say anything associated with the divorce that would leave them feeling like if they had done something differently thrn maybe this would not have happened.

  • Annabelle

    Annabelle

    March 5th, 2011 at 9:34 PM

    One important thing is to not demonize your partner when talking about it. If s/he did nothing legally wrong, like hitting you, stealing, doing drugs, or anything else that would result in a prison sentence, then don’t use it against them. I’ve seen a lot of parents, usually but not always the mother in my experience, try to turn their kids against the other.

  • Russell

    Russell

    March 6th, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    I have to concur. Doing that to the point the child knows they’re being manipulated could also come back and bite you when you try to get custody. Your child only need say “She told me my dad beat her, and that is a lie,” and then you wind up with no kids at all and probably a fine for perjury. Honesty is the best policy.

  • Jacqueline

    Jacqueline

    March 6th, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    If it’s at all possible, people should divorce on good terms. I’ve broken up with several people and all but one was ended with no hard feelings. It might be difficult but if the person you’re divorcing is your enemy, I have to wonder what kind of person you are to marry them in the first place LOL. ;) All I’m saying is look for their redeeming qualities you once saw clearly to help keep it all civilized.

  • Ian

    Ian

    March 6th, 2011 at 8:10 PM

    You need to prepare yourself for anything your kid will say. They might turn around and say “Good, I’m glad you’re getting that jerk out of my life!” or even “Well I don’t want to be with you, I want to be with her.” You need to brace yourself for the worst and prepare for every possible scenario you can think of.

  • Chase

    Chase

    March 6th, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    Never say “It’s none of your business.” When a kid’s parents are breaking up, it becomes their business. They have a right to know why they’re breaking up. Even if it’s completely private, they need to know the specifics. They might know things that you don’t that could strengthen your case in court too, think about that.

  • Curt

    Curt

    March 7th, 2011 at 5:41 AM

    When my wife and I decided to get a divorce and we told the kids we tried very hard not to play the blame game and I think that that by itself helped our kids a lot. They saw that we really had their best interests at heart and that we were going to work hard to keep the animosity out of it. I am not saying that this was always easy but for us this was not someone that we hated, just that we did not have the feelings for one another anymore that a strong married couple should have. maybe we never did and just thought that we should. Oh well. But anyway the kids have turned out great and I am not saying that to get a pat on the back, but just to say that there is a wy to do it that can inflict the least amount of harm possible.

  • Shendl Tuchman

    Shendl Tuchman

    March 26th, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    Thank you all so much for your comments. Wending your way through the legal and emotional aspects of divorce can push you to the edge of your coping strategies. Children need to be protected by and and sometimes from us when we are struggling to get through our own feelings and worries. Protecting them includes not having them become engaged in the process any more than they have to be. Which parent is at fault turns into a long and winding road of repeated recriminations that children need to get away from. They do not want to have to decide who is right, who is wrong and who they are allowed to love. It is these and many other considerations that help children grow up to have satisfying relationships of their own and not be emotionally burdened by what their parents put them through.

    Many thanks for all your thoughtful words,
    Shendl Tuchman, Psy.D.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

 

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog