Parents and children see divorce very differently. For the parents, there are years, maybe decades of history together. There are complications and many different factors involved in the decision to get divorced. However, children cannot see the same level of nuance and they often struggle to see the future and understand their own emotional responses. Further, kids will interpret the news differently and understand things differently depending on their different ages and levels of development.
As a parent preparing for a divorce, you need to consider how to best present the news to your children. There are many factors involved in this consideration, but we have listed four of the most important. Hopefully this will help you and your future ex-spouse prepare for the conversation.
Although each family and each child has a unique personality and individualized needs to consider, every family should consider these four essentials before having the divorce talk:
- Preparation: Make no mistake: telling your kids about an upcoming divorce is a major life event for everyone involved. This is not the type of conversation you should go into unprepared and simply wing it. Take time to make a plan. Whether your future ex-spouse is on board or not, at least you should think through the key points you want to communicate and consider how you want to explain things. It might be helpful to have a few things noted so you don’t miss any of the essentials during the conversation. According to Psychology Today, this plan is the first in their list of considerations for parents talking to their kids about divorce.
- Affirmation: Whatever else you might want to communicate in the conversation, make sure that you affirm a few essential things. Make sure your kids know you still love them, make sure they know that the divorce is not their fault, and make sure they know that they will be loved and cared for going forward.
- Expectation setting: As much as you can, and insofar as it’s appropriate for each child’s age and development, let them know the basics about things that might affect them immediately. DO NOT TELL THEM THEY WILL GET TO CHOOSE WHERE THEY LIVE OR IF/WHEN THEY WILL SEE THE OTHER PARENT. If you are early in the process and you haven’t determined any of these details yet, talk with an experienced divorce lawyer who can help you plan for your divorce. If you already know you are going to be splitting parenting time, or that they will be changing schools or locations, and you and the other parent are capable of sharing this information with the children in a joint conversation, this may help them adjust to a plan both parents support.
- Calibration for age and development: It is critical to adapt your conversation according the ages of your children. A 16-year-old will take the news much differently than a toddler will. It is often a good idea to have one simple conversation with the entire family, then follow up with more age-appropriate discussions with each child in turn. This approach also help you reaffirm your love and care for each child, as well.
If you are preparing for a divorce, these principles can be helpful for having the important talk with your children. You should also talk with a divorce lawyer who can help you through the legal process.