How to discuss divorce with young children
Drawing to a close the first divorce mediation session with parents who had already been living apart under the same roof for over a year , the Mom who had been super efficient turned to me and asked –“so how do we tell our children that we are getting divorced?”
Everything else the mother had thought of…from her perspective. But now the tears were welling-up as she imagined having to sit with her soon to be ex-husband telling them that Mommy and Daddy were not going to be married anymore…not living in the same home anymore.
Depending on the ages of the children, will impact on how soon you will tell the children. But certainly you do not want to start this conversation until you are both absolutely resolved that divorce is the only answer for you both and that the process is underway.
Once you have explored your options and decided whether this going to be a mutually agreed mediated process or whether things have soured to the point that you need to have lawyers fighting on each of your behalf will impact greatly on how you plan to tell the children.
As parents you need to be able to put your relationship issues aside and act in the best interests of your children, who need to have a healthy parent/child relationship with both of you
There is no one right way to go about this conversation – but the following pointers will help you prepare for it.
- Make sure that your children hear the news from you both, not from someone else. So do not go public with the decision until you have told your children.
- Ideally both parents will be present when you break the news to the children.
- Parents have already worked out where the primary residence will be and how the children will see the other parent.
- Parents need to show the children that while they are going to no longer be husband and wife, they will both remain the children’s parents, their love for the children is secure and that they can still work together as parents.
- It is most likely that a child will ask ”why are you getting divorced?” and parents need to prepare themselves to answer this question many times over during the early months and for years after the divorce.
- The most important thing is to be honest and as hard as it might be; do not name and blame the other parent in front of the children.
- Children want simple answers to simple questions such as:
Where is Daddy going to live? Where am I going to live?
How will Mommy take me ballet when I am at Daddy’s house?
Where will the pets live? How will I get to school? Etc.
They want to know and make sense of what your divorce means in their lives.
- For young children source age-appropriate story books that explain about divorce; so they can read through the practicalities of staying with Mommy and Daddy in two different homes.
- They may be angry, they may cry, they may become silent and withdraw. All of these are very natural responses to the news that Mom and Dad are getting divorced. Show empathy and assure them of your love.
- Inform their schools, of what is going to happen, so they can be understanding should they be upset at school.
- If the divorce is going to mean the present family home is going to be sold tell them so as soon as you are aware of this. If only one parent is going to move out, let them know how it is all going to work. They want to know that the parent which is moving out is going to be okay as well as when they will see Mom or Dad.
In every action and conversation remember you are trying to offer as much security to the children midst the reality of the family being re-shaped by divorce.
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