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.
#3: Avoid Placing Blame
Once you’ve delivered the news to your kids, regardless of their age, they might start to play the blame game. If you’re the type of couple that fought a lot in front of your kids that can really make them feel like they were a big cause of the divorce. Leah Klungness, a psychologist and coauthor of The Complete Single Mother. gives this advice from an article on Babycenter.com, "You may feel so upset that you want to tell the child about your spouse's egregious behavior. But children will take this as a betrayal — or worse, criticism of them. If Dad calls Mom a "liar" or "cheat," they begin to see themselves, half the product of Mom, as half a liar, half a cheat."
Our kids were ages 6 through 18 at the time, so we wanted to let them know the decision for us to get divorced was extremely difficult. They knew my ex-husband travelled quite a bit for his job so they were already used to his not physically being there on a regular basis. That actually worked in our favor because we simply explained that due to this lifestyle, we had grown apart and no longer shared similar interests. My ex-husband did a great job during this part of the conversation because he went out of his way to praise me as a mother, caregiver, and friend but that we just weren’t connecting as a couple any longer.
#4: Remain Calm and Peaceful
“Your kids are watching you. All the time,” reminds Dr. Michelle Rozen, Expert Divorce Mediator, and author of The Effective Mediation.
Rozen says “If you are anxious, they will be anxious. If you are out of control, they will be out of control as well. It is ok to grieve, all of you, it is normal. It is not ok as a parent to be out of control in front of the kids, badmouth the other parent or neglect the kids’ routines. Breath, deeply, and be there for your kids. They need you.”
We knew that logistically, because we have such a large family, we still needed each other, as parenting partners.
My ex-husband and I agreed with this piece of advice. We knew that logistically, because we have such a large family, we still needed each other, as parenting partners. So despite how we felt about our personal relationship, our kids had to come first, no matter what. This meant learning how to keep as peaceful and calm presence between us, especially in front of our kids, in all circumstances. Was this always possible? Absolutely not! So when I was experiencing a particularly difficult time throughout the process, I reached out to him, sometimes by a quick text, and said I was not in a good place and we probably should make sure not to be together in front of the kids until I felt stronger and ready to put on the “united front” once again.
This was not something I was good at in the beginning, because I wanted the whole world to think I could handle everything I was going through. But I soon learned that I had to ask for help throughout the divorce, and sometimes that was even from my ex-spouse. It meant our children would benefit, so that was always my motivator.
#5: Keep Lines of Communication Open
Vikki Stark, MSW, MFT, author of Divorce: How to Tell the Kids, shared in an article, "How to Tell the Kids You’re Getting Divorced," that parents need to be continually tuned in to their child’s emotional state so that he/she doesn’t feel isolated during the anxiety-ridden roller coaster of divorce.
After we told our kids what was happening with our marriage they randomly asked questions to both of us in the weeks to follow.
Some helpful thoughts to keep in mind in regards to communication from Families Change, Parents Guide to Separation and Divorce include:
“Do what you can to keep the dialogue going between you and your children. One of the best ways to keep your kids communicating with you is to have conversations with them about everyday things too. If every conversation seems to be about separation and divorce, they may soon start to avoid them altogether.”
Listen to what they have to say
- Give your child your full attention when they ask questions or are talking to you.
- Do not interrupt them; let them finish what they have to say.
- Treat their comments or questions seriously, especially about the separation or divorce.
Encourage their questions
- Tell your children that it is OK to ask questions about the separation or divorce, even if they think the question might upset you or the other parent.
- Reassure them that you will answer as truthfully and as best as you can, but that sometimes you may not know the answer yourself.
- In your answers, do not badmouth or criticize the other parent.
Answer their questions
“Children may ask questions that are difficult to answer throughout – even months or years after – the separation or divorce. Do not avoid a question or give your child a misleading answer; if they have the courage to ask, try to find the courage to answer. If you don't have an answer for them, be honest about it – say you don't know, or haven't made a decision yet.”
My ex-husband continued to have dinner with us a few times a week (he still does!) and we attended their sporting and school events together (still do!) as well as celebrated birthdays and special occasions as a family. This is not always easy or doable in some divorce situations, but we both agreed we had to remove our emotions towards each other in order for our kids to benefit. I joke that when we are in co-parenting mode we are like baked lobsters with our meat removed. Even in the most intense part of our divorce (going to court) we were able to be extremely civil (and even laughed and had some fun) because it meant our kids were seeing that, although we had a separate life as a couple, we were still always going to be their parents and a family.
The next topic in Mighty Mommy’s divorce series will be about how to co-parent with your ex-spouse.
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