How to Talk to Your Children About Your Divorce
By Holly Kimmel, Esq.*
Most feelings associated with divorce are overwhelmingly negative, and sometimes we are so consumed with emotion that we forget our children are experiencing these powerful feelings too. They may feel a sense of loss, anger, anxiety, and uncertainty. They may also be confused, and they may blame themselves.
If you want to help your children cope with their feelings and adjust to their new reality with less pain, consider the following tips.
- When you explain the situation, keep it simple and be direct. There is no need for a long, drawn-out story or details about why the marriage didn’t work. For example, if you have young children, you may say, “Mommy and Daddy think it would be better for all of us if we live in separate houses.” If your children are older and can understand the concept of divorce, you may say “We argue a lot, and it’s making everyone upset, so we think it will be better if we divorce.” When possible, both parents should have this initial discussion with children together so that there is no question that you both agree on the plan moving forward.
- Consistently remind your children that both parents love them and always will. With all the changes going on in your lives, children need to know that your love for them will never change. Tell them every day. Several times a day is even better!
- Keep an open dialogue. Talk to your children about divorce. Let them know you will always listen to their fears and concerns and that they can share their feelings with you freely. If they cry, tell them you understand that they’re sad and offer hugs and a shoulder to cry on. If your child isn’t likely to share feelings with on his or her own, check in with them and ask how they are feeling and remind them that you will always be there for them. The worst thing you can do is act like nothing is going on.
- Make sure your children know that the divorce is NOT their fault. They won’t know or understand the exact cause of the divorce, so they may start blaming themselves. They may even think that if they caused the problem, they could fix it. Some children start scheming to get you back together. Let them know that the divorce was an adult decision, they did not cause it and that getting back together is not an option. Then help them come to terms with these feelings (see #3 above).
- Keep your children in the loop so that they know what to expect. For example, explain the visitation schedule to your children and tell them when they’ll be able to see the other parent. Putting up a calendar with dates of your parenting schedule and special events will reassure your children that they will have time with both of their parents. You can use stickers or colors for each parent so that the schedule is easy for them to understand.
- Always let your children know of changes in the schedule ahead of time. Giving your children time to prepare for a change in their schedule and routine will make it easier for them to adjust. Avoid blocking the child from seeing the other parent.
- Stop with the negativity. It’s hard to avoid feeling anything but negative or cynical about your ex, especially if you’re angry or hurt, but it’s not impossible. Just remind yourself to always take the high road. Find positive things to say about the other parent so that your children don’t feel like they have to choose between you. Then get out those complaints, your anger, and your sadness by talking to a friend, therapist, coach, or another mentor when you’re out of earshot of your children. (Side note – don’t complain to your lawyer about emotional issues unless you have money to burn!)
- Cooperate and let your children see it. Does your ex need to make a change to the schedule that’s reasonable? Are there special occasions like birthdays when you and your ex both want to see your children? Do your children want to call your ex in the middle of the day? Be civil and cooperative and make these requests happen. You’ll set a positive example for your children, keep the peace, relieve their tension, and promote stability and happiness, which is what children need when their parents get divorced.
Divorce can flood the whole family with emotions that can be hard to handle, but you can make it easier for your children, which will also make things easier for you. The sooner you all deal with these emotions the sooner you’ll be on the road to recovery and healing.
*Holly Kimmel, Esq. is an associate attorney at Aronsohn Weiner Salerno & Kaufman, P.C.