Telling Your Children
As your world is turning upside down, you're probably spending most of the time thinking about yourself. What will happen to you? How will you cope with your new status as a divorced person? Your emotions will run the gamut from relief to despair. Just think: If you are having a hard time dealing with the changes, what must be going on in the minds of your children? Fortunately, you have some control over what happens to you. Your children have no control; they depend on you and your spouse.
Both Parents Should Participate
It's important to tell the children what's going on. Think how devastating it is for a child to wake up one morning and find one of his parents gone. When this happens, children immediately start to worry that another morning they'll wake up to find the remaining parent gone. Ideally you and your spouse should tell children about the impending divorce together. If possible, you need to plan together how this will happen. Decide in advance what you will say. Pick a time when the family is normally together, say, Sunday dinner. If you don't have such a time, call a family conference when no one has to run off to an activity.
Both of you should participate. Tell the children you've decided to separate. Tell them the fact you're getting divorced doesn't change the fact you love them very much.
If you've made specific plans for your separation, tell the children what they are. If you're the parent who is moving out, be sure to tell the children they will always be welcome at your new place. Let them know you will spend as much time with them as you possibly can. Reassure them that you will always be there for them if they need you.
Reassure the children that you will always be their parents. Some children may feel it is their fault. Reassure your children that what is happening has nothing to do with them or anything they have done.
Use Simple Language
When you tell your children about the divorce, you need to use language they understand. All children old enough to understand language should be included in this process. While two-year-olds may not know the word divorce, they'll be able to understand when you say, “Mommy and Daddy aren't going to live together any more.” Little kids don't have a good grasp of time, so it's better to say “I'll see you a lot,” rather than “I'll see you in two weeks.”
All children involved in a divorce wonder if they were so bad they drove their parents to it, so you need to be clear that the divorce is an adult decision for reasons having nothing to do with them. If children are old enough to understand, it's helpful to give them a concrete plan for the future. Kids don't do well with ambiguity. Most adults don't either, but kids especially need specifics. They need to know where you're going, when you're going, and when they'll see you. They need to know whether they'll move and with whom they'll live.
Even though your children may not drastically change their behavior or even act as though the news of divorce affects them, this doesn't mean that they're not suffering. Some children live in a state of shock or denial after hearing the news. If your child's behavior changes drastically, you may want to consult a mental health professional.
If you tell the children you're sad, you give them permission to be sad, too. While it's good to talk to your children about feelings, make sure you don't badmouth the other parent in the process. Children need to be able to express their emotions about the divorce and they need to know you'll continue to be their parents.
Give an Explanation
Tell your children why you are getting divorced. You might say, “You kids have probably noticed Mom and I have been arguing a lot recently. We haven't had many fun times, like we used to. We just can't seem to get along.” It's probably not a good idea to tell children you're getting divorced because one of you has found someone else. Children will have enough on their plates without dealing with the idea that one beloved parent has dumped the other for someone else. This is not the time to place blame. The idea is to give the children a reasonable explanation to help them understand and to make it clear the divorce is not their fault.