Question: My husband and I are deciding to get a divorce but there are a lot of details we still have to work out. I am wondering when it would be the right time to tell our kids what’s going on? I don’t want them to be worrying about it for months before it even happens.
Answer: The decision to get divorced is such a difficult one, even when the reasons are clear. Chances are you and your partner struggled for a long time in making the decision and it took you a while to come to terms with all of the changes, fears and losses as well as new possibilities that accompany such a major life transition.
If you and your spouse have decided that divorce is inevitable it’s appropriate to sit down together as a family and tell your children what is going on. The more time they have to accept the idea of change and the more gradual the change occurs, the easier it will be for them to adjust. This transitional time is a great opportunity to open a continuous dialogue with your children about what the divorce will mean to them.
There are a few things to keep in mind when discussing the topic:
Keep the information age appropriate; do not share with your children all the unpleasant details about your relationship and why it didn’t work out.
Instead, focus the conversation on how the two of you loved each other when they were brought into the world, how happy you are that they are part of your life and how you love them now and will continue to love them regardless of whether or not you live in the same house.
Share with your children any details you have about where you will be living, what the arrangements will be, what significant changes they can expect and what will stay the same. Encourage them to ask questions and take time to give thoughtful answers.
Do not disrespect or “bad mouth” your spouse in front of your children, even if you are angry or upset. Children often get caught in loyalty conflicts between their parents and this can be extremely stressful for them.
Remind your children frequently that its not their fault that things didn’t work out between you. Telling them once is not enough. Many children hesitate to admit that they feel responsible because the shame and fear that they are the reason for your divorce is so strong. For very young children it can sometimes be difficult to put such complex feelings into words.
It is also helpful to remember that children are egocentric by nature, that is part of their normal development. If you attend to their concerns and fears in a calm, comforting way, allow them ample time to process and ask questions and assure them repeatedly that they will be loved and cared for by both parents you will be providing a strong foundation from which they can move forward.