This article provides guidance and suggestions on how to tell your children about your decision to get a divorce. It will be useful for divorcees themselves, as well as grandparents, carers, friends and anyone else with a caring, supportive role in the children’s lives.
No matter how you feel about your ex partner, you will always be parents to your children. Of course you want them to suffer as little as possible as a result of the changes that are happening. And children do suffer as a result of their parents splitting up:even in families where there has been a lot of arguing, most children would prefer their parents to stay together (and, preferably, stop arguing!).
How to say it - what to say
- Try telling them when you and your ex are together if at all possible. The thought of losing a parent is absolutely terrifying to children. Telling them together sends the message that you are both still parents;
- Take into account their ages when deciding what to tell them. A very young child, for example, might not understand the concept of divorce;
- An older child might feel patronised;
- Try to only give them the information that affects them. Where they are going to live, how often and where they are going to see the other parent and so on;
- Try to agree on how to answer questions about 'why' beforehand;
- Explain that you are sad about what's happening but that things will get better;
- Acknowledge their feelings: say that you understand that they are feeling sad and angry and that you are sorry they're feeling like that;
- Most importantly, reassure them that it's not their fault, that you both still love them a lot, that you will both do your best to always be there for them and that this will never change.
How to support them through the changes in their lives
If at all possible, try to work together with your partner in this. Your children are in need of lots of reassurance that whatever changes, their parents' love and presence in their life will be constant. Of course, there are situations where one parent does not have contact with the children because, for example, s/he chooses not to. This is often a temporary situation while 'things cool down' and you should, hard as it will be, particularly try to reassure your child that the absent parent still cares for them.
You might want to consider the following points to help them
- Keeping to normal routines and activities as much as possible can help your child feel more secure;
- Trying to turn changes (such as seeing the 'absent' parent) into regular routines too can help;
- Reassurance and acknowledgement of their emotions can help your children to continue to feel loved by both of you;
- Try not to be too hard on them when they seem more naughty than usual, are angry or even reject you. They are in pain - talk about that and reassure them;
- Talk to teachers and other carers about what is happening. That will help them to help your children;
- Talk about your emotions too - they will know you're sad or angry and acknowledging that you are (without 'blaming' your partner) and saying that things will get better can make it easier for them to acknowledge their own feelings;
- Books, films and other children who have been through a divorce can be very helpful;
- Remember that you are the grown up. Do not turn them into your confidantes; ask them to take sides or to make big decisions. This is always damaging to them.
Take care of yourself
Nobody is perfect and people who are themselves going through a very traumatic time are likely to find dealing with their children's problems difficult. You will make mistakes and do and say things you wish you hadn't. Apologising when that happens and explaining that you are feeling stressed, angry and so on, and that that's made you say or do something that wasn't right can help both you and your child.
Try to get as much support for yourself as you can. Friends and family can be a fantastic support both practically and for providing you with a place where you can let of a bit of steam. Counselling can be invaluable to help you deal with your emotions.
The adjustments to your life, both in practical and emotional terms, are very difficult for you and your children. But, in time, you will get used to them and you will feel better.
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