How to Talk to Your Kids About the Possibility of Divorce

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Possibility of Divorce Divorce is a dirty word. No matter how far we’ve come as a society and how much acceptance there is to go around there is still something about divorce that makes people feel embarrassment, shame, and disappointment. This, of course, should not be the case. There is nothing to be ashamed of about divorce. People change, love evolves, and frankly, sometimes life gets messy. 

Divorce and separation can be a gift. A beautiful and compassionate gift you give to yourself and your partner amid obvious and unsurmountable differences. In a way divorce is kindness. But in a lot of other ways divorce is scary, frustrating, confusing and the emotions that accompany it are complex! And if it’s this complicated and nuanced for us adults imagine how it must feel for children. 

If you and your partner are discussing the possibility of separating or filing for a legal divorce and you have children you already know there are conversations to be had. These conversations can be tricky and very emotional. How you handle these conversations matter! 

Here are our best tips for how to talk to your kids about the possibility of divorce. 

Get on the same page with your partner FIRST 

Before you can talk to your children about the change on the horizon it is VERY important to first have a strong understanding with your partner about what this new reality is. And what it is NOT. 

The scariest part of separations and divorce for children is that they do not understand what’s happening and it feels wrong to them to have a life different from what it’s always been. 

They will have questions. Little questions like where their dog will live and big questions like when will they see certain parents and who will be at baseball games. 

Having a solid understanding of the next steps and new realities with your partner before talking to your kids will help to bring clarity to the situation. 

Be sure to think ahead to the obvious hurdles; like planned vacations, events, and even the question of why. It is important to remain unified with your co-parent even if your lives are no longer going to be united. 

Dispel the Disappointment 

Reactions will vary between child and child. Even within the same home children may react differently. If your child already knows of children with divorced parents and they are okay with the idea of divorce, great. Handle the emotional questions and concerns about how their relationship with their parents do not have to change. Reassure them that this is a natural part of love and that this is okay. And don’t push the issue. 

If you have a child resisting this concept and wondering why it “failed” or why you didn’t “love each other enough” it is important to dispel this disappointment. 

Of course, it is normal to feel disappointed that reality is shifting, that they will no longer simultaneously live with both parents, that their parents aren’t in love anymore. However, too much disappointment is a bad thing because it can create those unrealistic expectations of love and marriage that we discussed in the beginning. 

Explain to your children that this is normal. That love fades and people change and that the love you felt for each other was real and WORTH IT! Try and help them understand that divorce is not a failure, it is just a choice that is made sometimes when love isn’t enough. And that is OKAY! 

Helping your children to feel what they feel without making it bigger than it is essential. Their reality was just shaken a bit. Feeling sad that their parents are no longer together is normal. Feeling like their parents failed at love and that love is a waste of energy and nothing good can ever last. Not so much. 

Bring Honesty and Authenticity to the Situation 

Here’s the thing – divorce and separation sucks! But if you’re at the point it likely hasn’t been smooth sailing for a while. In most cases, your kids are aware of this. Maybe they’ve heard you arguing. Maybe they’ve sensed the tension. Maybe they just noticed that their parents are no longer happy anymore. 

Acknowledge these truths. Let them know that you are hurting too. Let them know that you tried. Let them know how hard you tried. And let them know that it disappointed you too but that there is a silver lining. We live in a time when we can choose to move on. 

But also let this conversation occur in a natural way. Don’t sit them down in some big dramatic, theatrical situation and deliver a pre-written speech. Be yourself. Both of you. And just be honest. Smile. Laugh. Cry if you need to. 

Practice a Need to Know Policy 

There is a limit to honesty and helpfulness in situations like this though. Keep in mind that there are scenarios in which we, as adults find ourselves, that our children do not need to know about. A great example of this is infidelity. 

Many divorces and separations are blamed on infidelity. This is an adult situation in which children might not be able to process. It can confuse and irritate children to learn something like that about their parents. And in many cases it simply isn’t age-appropriate. 

It is best to avoid adult situations in which the children have no way to cope or process as well as anything that paints one of the parents as the bad guy. Even if you mutually agree the divorce is 100% one person’s fault (unlikely of course but for argument’s sake) sharing that information with your child only gives them someone to blame. This can develop into hatred and contempt for a parent/child relationship. This should always be avoided. 

Their emotional intelligence is still developing; they cannot see nuances as we can. Keep it honest but vague when necessary. 

Take a Deep Breath and Put One Foot in Front of the Other

Divorce is a lot to process. For children and for you. Take a deep breath. And then another. If you and your partner are not in a place where you’ve accepted the change, or can amicably talk about it with each other, wait to talk to the kids. Closure Therapy can help couples navigate these tricky waters and get on solid footing as co-parents. 

Divorce, separation, and the acceptance of both is a process.  A journey. If you’ve just started discussing the possibility it’s best to hold off on talking to your kids until you know for sure what’s happening and you’re on the same page with your partner. Then be sure to answer all the questions they have. Reassure them that your marriage is NOT a failure and that things will be okay. 

Divorce is often scarier in theory than in practice. The same is true for talking to your kids about divorce. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that you will get through this, and just put one foot in front of the other. You will be just fine!

 

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