You and your spouse have decided to call it quits. Maybe you’ve both come to terms with the fact that the relationship is over. But as much as that may or may not be true, remember that the news will likely be a surprise to your children – regardless of their age.
Your divorce could be one of the most stressful times of your life, but experts agree that it is even more stressful and upsetting for your children. With that in mind, how and when you break the news to them is really important and should be handled with loving care.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Plan it with your spouse. Make no mistake; the news will hurt. But sharing the news together sends a message that you are still committed to working together as parents. That’s at least some consolation in what is otherwise a general upheaval of your child’s life. Plan the conversation for a day and time without interruptions when you don’t have to run off to another engagement. It should not be done on impulse.
- Be honest about what’s happening. You won’t need to share all the details, but your kids deserve some explanation. This is where you will need to be careful not to play the blame game. The bitterness of an extramarital affair, for instance, could make it tempting to assign blame, but that won’t help your child. Instead, you might say, “We haven’t been able to work out our differences,” or “We need to stop the arguing.”
- Talk about what’s changing and what will stay the same. The first thing to cross your child’s mind will most likely be: How is this going to affect me? You and your spouse can relieve a lot of anxiety for your kids by explaining where they’re going to live and how their lives will change, so be sure to work out the details before you share the news. Be honest and upfront about the new schedule, and, if possible, reassure them that their school, friends and activities will remain the same.
- Be prepared for a range of emotions. Or no emotion at all. Both are normal reactions to the news. Some kids respond with anger and tears while others need some time to process what they’ve just heard before they can express their feelings or ask questions. It’s a lot to take in, so don’t be surprised if your child doesn’t want to discuss it immediately. On the other hand, some kids will have a lineup of questions about what went wrong and how it will impact their life. In some instances, particularly if there’s been a great deal of fighting, your kids may be relieved to hear the news.
- Avoid fighting in front of your kids. Any confrontation between parents can be frightening for kids, especially when they are unable to fix the problem. It’s important not to say anything negative about your spouse as that could jeopardize the parent-child relationship.
There’s little doubt that telling your kids about your divorce will be one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have. Likewise, it will be a conversation they will remember for the rest of their lives. That’s why it’s so important to do it right, something that will require planning and effort on the part of both parents.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.