5 Expert-Approved Ways to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce

Divorce can be endlessly difficult to tell your kids about. But Mighty Mommy has five expert-approved ways to help you bear breaking the news.

Cheryl Butler
8-minute read
Episode #418

In this episode, I’m going to speak about something I’ve never spoken publically about before: my divorce. I appreciate your feedback on this topic, as always, and encourage you to see a therapist or professional if you need help in your marriage or are unsure what the future holds.

My husband and I were married for 26 years when we divorced.  As the parents of 8 kids, our biggest concern was breaking the news in a considerate and communicative manner.  This was a decision that we both agreed on during an extremely gut-wrenching time.  It was the last alternative but for us, it was the right choice.

It was a cold, bleak Saturday afternoon in January—Martin Luther King weekend.  Our oldest daughter was away at school and living in New York City at the time, so we were fortunate that she could come home that weekend, which was a huge comfort for not only her younger siblings (and me as well).

Now, we’ve been divorced for nearly five years, and although our lives have definitely undergone some dramatic changes, we’ve actually grown closer as a family.  This episode will be the first in a series for families who have been touched by divorce.  I’ve personally experienced the emotional journey of divorce  and while it certainly hasn’t been easy, my family has remained healthy, intact, and, loving.

Here are five important considerations, as backed by the experts, to keep in mind when you share the news of your divorce with your children.

#1:  Choose Timing That Allows for Processing

When we were finally ready to tell our children that we were getting a divorce, my ex-husband and I sat down and discussed how and when we should tell them.  I have to admit, this wasn’t exactly the most inspired discussion, but to my ex-husband’s credit, he reminded me that we had to stay focused and keep the kid’s best interest in mind.  So, that’s just what we did.   Is it easy to put your kids first when you yourself are emotionally drained from the divorce process?  Absolutely not.  But when you are a parent, kids have to come first.  So my ex and I made a pact that we would make the announcement of our divorce as easy on our eight kids as possible. 

We took some time to review a “joint script” so to speak, that we would present to our kids.  In addition, we researched when the best possible time would be to share the news. The research we found pointed to making sure the kids had enough time to process and digest the news before they returned to their everyday routines.  For my kids, that meant hearing the news a few days before they had to go back to school, hence on Martin Luther King weekend.

Experts agree on the importance of timing.  Gary Marsh LMSW, Facilitative Divorce Mediator, explains in an article titled ‘Telling the Kids You Are Separating or Getting a Divorce’: “Try to inform your kids at a time when they will have an opportunity to react and think about it before returning to school.  Telling them when they have some free time gives them an opportunity to ask questions, be upset and then recover.  Having two or three days between finding out and returning to school can provide the time needed.  Plan to be around after you tell them so you can provide support and comfort, if they need it. And then, when the dust has settled, answer questions."

#2: Stand United

In addition to finding an appropriate time to share the news about your divorce, it’s almost important to tell your kids together, as a team, rather than separately.  This can be difficult if the circumstances behind your divorce are raw and painful,but remember as I said in tip #1, “Kids first.”

Kids have to digest this life-changing information, just as we as do. However, if parents tell their kids separately, you open up a whole new kettle of worms because without the other parent in the room, the entire message can become biased or confusing.  There is nothing worse than for a child than to hear conflicting messages from the two most trusted adults in his or her life.  Please realize that every divorce is unique and has its own challenges so I’m sharing what worked for our family. However, many experts also believe together is better—like, M. Gary Neuman, L.M.H.C,  author of Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce: The Sandcastles Way. Neuman writes that the team approach, "gives your children their first opportunity to see that even though your marriage is ending, you will still be working together as parents. It also tells them that you are both equally committed to them and can and will separate your relationship as spouses from your relationship as parents. This arrangement also prevents one parent from dominating the floor, as it were, and using this important, sensitive moment to present his or her 'case' in a (perhaps unconscious) attempt to manipulate or confuse the child."  


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!