Breaking the news to your children that you and your husbands will be divorcing is no question a hard conversation to have and it’s one that frequently comes up on parents minds when the relationship is looking like it is finally over.
It’s so important that your children learn about your divorce directly from you rather than overhearing an argument or discussion between you and your soon to be ex or especially from another person. Hopefully you and your ex are in a position where you can plan how to have the conversation with your children. Whilst I appreciate helping hundreds of women and their children through Divorce in Dubai and a wider afield online, I am also realistic in understanding that this is not always possible, so here are some useful guidelines below to help you.
Make sure you are ready to have the discussion. By that I mean make sure you and your ex have made key decisions before you even think about sitting the children down with you. Children need certainty and your divorce will no doubt cause a lot of anxiety for them, so you will need to be sure that you can answer their most common concerns. Being prepared to answer questions is key. Examples may include: Will I change school? Where will I live? Who will I live with? Why are you divorcing? Will we be able to cope financially? When will I see Mum / Dad and how often? What will happen on my birthday, at Christmas and summer holidays?
You will do well to have answers to all of the above and think of any others they may ask before you sit down with your children. Ideally agree with your ex what you will say beforehand and if this is not possible then brain storm with someone you trust, a friend, family member or coach. Be sure to answer the questions in a way that’s both age-appropriate and appropriate for the parent-child relationship too.
Children do not need to hear about infidelity or how the marriage was “sexless” for example. Children form their relationship patterns and ideas from their childhood and the degree of detail they have can harm their future relationships if you are not tactful. Until you have the answers, it is often best to wait until you can clearly let them know how things will be to calm anxiety and reassure them they will be looked after and loved the same. For example, if a young child asks why you’re splitting up, you don’t need to say your dad had an affair; It would be much better to share something like, “We tried hard to make the relationship work but have several years, but we both have realised that we can no longer be together.”
Get The Timing Right
The next key thing you need to think about is the timing of your message. It has to be the best time for your children and not when it may suit you or your ex. Where possible, you should avoid times where your children have something significant going on such as major tests, competitions, a birthday, vacations or a holiday.
Choose a Meeting Place that’s Safe
You will want to tell your children in a room free from distractions and a day where they don’t have any commitments after, such as meeting up with friends. It’s best to agree exactly what you will say in advance. For example:
“Mummy and Daddy have decided to live in separate homes but we will always be there for you and love you very much.”
Regardless of the circumstances, it’s always best for children to keep the divorce and reasoning behind it as neutral as possible, and blaming one parent for the divorce will ultimately hurt the children, as ideally your children still need to have a relationship with both parents. Also, avoid at all costs making them feel like they have to make sides or choose between parents. Asking them to choose can put them under a great deal of stress and so even if you are fuming at your husband, keep that hidden from your children as much as possible and instead utilise the support of good friends or divorce coach to help you process your emotions.
Expect Different Reactions
Children react differently to this news. Some will cry or get angry, whereas others will become quiet and really need to think and mull things over. Occasionally children will pretend like they don’t care at all and want to go and play, seemingly like they are ignoring the news. Their reactions can depend on so many factors including their age, how much they know or how they have learned about your divorce and it’s also dependant on the relationship they have with you and your ex, as well as their own personalities.
Some parents I have supported through this go and do a family activity all together to show their children that they are still friends and both be there to answer any questions. However some children do not feel like doing anything.
The key thing to remember when planning how to tell your children about divorce is making sure that you constantly let them know that it is not their fault, that you love them deeply and that this will never change. Make it crystal clear that parents do not divorce children.
Avoid Badmouthing At All Costs
According to research, children can get through their parent’s divorce fairly well when they feel they have two loving parents that don’t criticize or blame each other. What makes it hard for children however, is when they feel like they need to pick sides, save a parent or feel caught in the middle. Children are already dealing with their own emotions around the break up and often cannot handle their parents emotions as well so be as considerate as you can of these very important factors.
Welcome Their Questions
Reassure your children that they can ask you questions at any time now or in the future. If you don’t have an answer to a question, say so and agree to let them know later. This will make them feel safe and prevent them from suffering in silence when things are on their mind and it will allow you to assess how they are getting on.
It will take time for your children to adjust to this news as there’s no question it’s a huge change and they will need to get used to it. Allow them the space to express any of their emotions in a healthy way. Let them know they are allowed to feel sad, angry, hurt, lonely or pleased and that feelings come and go and that’s all perfectly normal and okay.
Regardless of age, your older children can take the news equally as hard as young children, especially if they viewed your marriage as an ideal relationship that they had also aspired to. Again, avoid getting them involved or making them feel they need to choose sides.
Stay tuned for further information of how you can best support children through divorce, and if you have any questions for me anytime, please do not hesitate to ask. This is an area I am passionate about given my parents own turbulent marriage and bitter divorce, so I want to help as many families as possible have happier homes.
Written by Nicola Beer, Relationship Specialist
P.S To get my free e-books “3 Ways You Can Protect Your Children Through Divorce” and “How to help your Teens Thrive Not Only Survive Divorce Visit http://purepeacecoaching.com/help-kids-in-divorce/
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