Divorce is often painful for the people involved but it can be especially tough for children. The way in which you talk to your children about the divorce can have a profound impact on them, as can the way in which you behave. This is a time when it is important to model grace under fire: it is how to help your children through your divorce.
It is important to tell your children you are divorcing well before they hear about it from someone else. Once the plans have been finalized and you know for sure you are going through with the divorce, it is time to sit down with the kids. Yes, “the Talk” is difficult, but it has to be done, and it is important that you do it the right way. If at all possible, both parents should be there for the talk.
Try to be calm rather than emotional. Don’t let them see that you are mad, scared or hurt. Do not ask them to “decide” what you should do; the responsibility of deciding whether to end a marriage rests with the spouses, and should not be piled onto the shoulders of their children. Reassure your children that:
- The split is NOT in any way their fault;
- Even though you and your spouse’s feelings for each other have changed, you both will ALWAYS love your kids;
- Even though you and your spouse will not be living together any more, you both will still act as a unit to raise the kids; and,
- Things will be okay.
You will need to repeat these assurances to your children as time goes by.
Both during your initial talk with your children, and later as the divorce process grinds along, be careful not to fall into any of these tempting traps:
- Oversharing – Give the children information that is relevant to them, like where they will be when and who will take them to soccer practice. Don’t give them the nitty gritty about wrongdoing or infidelities: complaining to your children about their other parent will not only hurt them and will also damage your case with the Judge. Don’t complain about or argue with your spouse to others where your children may be able to hear you. Do not vent your emotions with your children.
- Blaming – When the children are unhappy about a particular situation, avoid using your spouse as a scapegoat. Instead of saying, “I want to be with you for Christmas, too, but your father insisted you be with him,” say, “The judge decided you should spend this Christmas with your father and I know he is excited about sharing it with you.”
- Manipulating – Don’t try to use the children as a weapon against your spouse. Most of the time it won’t work and it will actually end up damaging your relationship with the kids instead.
- Disrupting – Most children thrive on routine and boundaries so their lives should be disrupted as little as possible.
- Ignoring – Never get so tied up with your own pain that you forget your kids are hurting too. Give them the love and reassurance they will need to get through the divorce with a healthy outlook.