Parents may experience no more difficult challenge than telling their children that mom and dad will be getting divorced. No matter the level of discord between spouses, no matter how sure divorce is the right choice, explaining that rationale to the children who only see their family coming apart can be heartbreaking.
As explained in this article, parents should address the children with sensitivity and an awareness that they will have serious questions that will likely revolve around them and their future. Let’s look at some of the typical questions and ways to respond.
Most people who go through divorce or most therapists who work with children during divorce will agree that the first question children ask will be “why?” – but even if they do not say it, they will wonder if they are the cause of the divorce. Parents should take steps to reassure the children they have nothing to do with the breakup, that sometimes adults reach a point where they cannot stay together. Children likely will not understand the explanations – we are not happy together, we just keep arguing, we do not love each other anymore – and will wonder if those reasons for breaking up will lead to you divorcing them someday for the same reasons. Again, the key is to reassure the children they have a permanent bond with each parent, that the love between a parent and a child is different from that between spouses, and that after the divorce they will continue to be loved and nurtured by both parents, just in different houses.
The next most common question involves continuity versus disruption – how much will their lives change and how much will it remain the same? The more change the more anxiety. So, if the children understand they will still attend the same school, see the same friends, play the same sports and see the same family members, they will feel they still have their core needs met as they deal with actual changes.
In families with multiple children, another frequent question centers around “splitting” – will one parent take one child and the other parent take another child. Obviously, children have strong attachments to their siblings and the idea that one would go with one parent more than another only creates the idea that one parent loves them more. Children need to see that they will not be divided up like the marital property.
Above all, remember there is no one magic way to break the news to your children about divorce. Every situation will have its own challenges. But if you can try to focus on the viewpoint of the children and their particular fears and concerns, it may help smooth the transition. Also, do not hesitate to use professional help if the children begin to show signs of maladjustment. If the children see that both parents love them and will continue to love and care for them, the children will have an easier time adjusting to a new reality.
If you have questions about telling your children about divorce, contact us – we can help.