So you and your spouse have decided to divorce. You’ve discussed it, you’ve each spoken to a divorce lawyer, you’ve put some thought into your next steps. There’s just one thing you’ve been putting off: how are you going to tell the kids?
When you’re wondering how to tell children about divorce it can be easy to overthink it: after all, you want to be honest with your family, but you don’t want to upset them. Take a deep breath and read the advice we’ve put together from divorce lawyers, parenting experts, and families who have been through this already and come out the other side.
#1 Remember you’re doing the right thing
If you’re expecting your child to become upset, it’s common to feel guilty: but don’t beat yourself up. If your marriage was the best place to bring up your children, you wouldn’t be consulting a divorce lawyer. Happy people make happy parents; staying in an unhappy relationship can model unhealthy behaviour for your children in the future.
#2 Tell them together if possible
One of the most important messages to convey to your children is that they still have two parents who love them and will be there for them. A clear way to send that message right from the start is to present a unified message, with both parents sitting down to talk to the children at the same time. (Of course there are many situations when that won’t be possible – abusive relationships are one of these – so again, don’t be too hard on yourself if this won’t work for you.)
Don’t be tempted to tell your older children before their younger siblings. If some of your children feel they are keeping secrets from others, this places a burden on them and can drive wedges between siblings at a time when they need each other the most. Tell them all together, and tailor your message to the youngest child in the room.
#3 Make a plan
You and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse are likely to be experiencing a lot of emotion and negative feelings towards one another, but you need to work together as a team to deliver this difficult news to your kids. Work out ahead of time when you’re going to tell them (find a block of time when everyone can see each others’ faces – so not in the car! – and when nobody is going to be rushing out the door to work or school), and exactly what you’re going to say.
#4 Keep it short
It will be easier on both you and the kids if you avoid rambling on or going into too much detail. Stick to the key messages: this is happening; there is nothing they could have done to prevent it, and nothing they can do to change your minds; you both love them very much, and will both continue to be their parents.
#5 Encourage honesty and questions
Don’t put your children in the position of having to comfort you, but do be honest with them about your feelings, and encourage them to be honest about theirs. Encourage them to ask questions, not only in the moment but later on – but you (and your spouse if possible) should decide ahead of time how are you are going to answer (or decline to answer) any tricky questions, for example about infidelity.
#6 Be ready to move forward quickly
Remember that time moves more slowly for young children. Once you’ve told them you’re divorcing, it’s important to move on with the end of the marriage as swiftly as possible, to avoid confusing them and enable them to adjust easily to ‘the new normal’. After you have this conversation with your children, call a specialist law firm like Matrimonial Home to get things moving as soon as you can.