I don't know if we did it the right way, I do know that telling our kids about our divorce was the worst part of the experience for me, especially since we were still living in the same home.
We were all sitting in the living room. My oldest at the time was 14 and starting her freshman year of high school. She sat next to me on the couch. My middle daughter was 12 and in the sixth grade; just starting junior high softball season. She and her 7-year-old sister sat on the longer couch on both sides of their dad. I started with “We have something very important to talk to you about.” That was the moment my stomach almost exploded and the time their dad started uncontrollably sobbing. Telling kids about your divorce will rank up there as one of the top five worst days of your entire life.
Having the divorce conversation with our kids totally sucked
I tried to be prepared. My ex and I met in a neutral location to discuss how we'd approach the kids. We talked about the points we'd each cover and the actual words we would and wouldn't use. "You did nothing wrong, we love you, this is a grown-up marriage thing." I followed him to the house confident we were ready.
I was ready. He was not.
All he did was cry. And I get it. When your kids cry, you cry. And your kids are going to cry when you tell them. A heart-wrenching cry unlike you've heard, not even when they woke up hungry in the middle of the night as an infant and with much more pain than when the fell and broke a bone.
The advice I share: Even when you think you’re prepared, you won’t be. If you’re asking for the divorce, he will cave so have a backup plan to keep talking even when you can’t find the words. I tried to get him to talk with comments like “This is what will happen next, right?” but all he could do was cry. So, be prepared for crying. Lots of it. Do your best to not cry. Work through it by staying calm, sticking to facts and telling the kids "I love you," over and over again.
We made the mistake of not having an “after we tell them” plan
I didn’t have one. I didn’t even think about it. The middle child ran to her room and the oldest followed. From behind her closed door, I could hear this sweet teenage princess consoling her heart-broken sister. “We know lots of friends with divorced parents,” she said, “We’ll be ok.” Her sister sobbed viciously and said, “what if mom loses her job, where will dad live, where will I keep my stuff?” I listened with a hurting heart to their sweet voices and with an angry rage as he stood behind me in the hallway saying “are you happy? Is this really what you want? You are doing this to them!” It was awful.
Everyone needs time to adjust when you drop the disappointment, but a plan for after they’re told would have helped me tremendously. As it turns out, my mom came over and took my kids to see a movie. He left for his parents and I went on a two-hour walk, alone in the rain. I didn’t plan any of that. When we planned the conversation, we should have planned an exit strategy. Think about that.
Since we were still living together the days after, were the worst for the kids
He won’t leave. He doesn’t have to even if you want him to. And if you leave, you can inadvertently send the message you are abandoning the kids which won’t work out well for you later during the divorce process. So you realize that even though you thought it couldn’t get any more awkward than telling the kids and it does.
I had to tell him every day that we weren’t riding to games together, we weren’t sitting down for dinner together and we weren’t sleeping in the same bed. I bought a bed and moved into the basement. Separate spaces were helpful, but it still put the kids in a terrible position of what to do, especially in the evening. Downstairs with mom? Up with dad? Who tucks them in?
Games of who can do more and be better begin. He fixes breakfast to show the kids there is just no way I could do it without him. He’d disappear to the bar and comes home intentionally around bedtime with cheeseburgers and fries to be the “fun dad.”
I remember one day after work my car got stuck in the snow. I walked up the driveway into the house covered in snow. He sat there on the couch, snuggled in front of the fireplace with my kids and said “Is something wrong?” with a smirk on his face. It took all the patience of my inner being to not wipe the smirk off his face and call out his immaturity. As you face the days after, try to work out a schedule of who is where and when. Even if it’s just which nights each of you are home while the other is gone, it can help prevent the games and tension for the kids.
Getting to the end
One day in my basement dwelling, nine painful months after I filed for divorced and we told the kids, my ex came half way down the steps. We’d been back and forth for weeks about money, visitation, and who would take what from the kitchen. He came down the steps because he knew I’d have to speak – we had resorted to email communication only by that point per my attorney’s advice. He said, “I just want this over.” I was shocked. I was more shocked at my reaction, “Then go tell your attorney because I’ve tried to figure this out with you and you refuse to believe this is over.” Look at me standing up to him! I didn’t buckle. I didn’t cave. I stood up for the person I was and wanted to be. Which is one of the biggest reason I filed for divorce: to find the person I lost.
Divorce is the best and worst of anything I’ve ever been through. I have some bad days and so do my kids. But we have more good days than bad and that is because I never quit staying true to me and my kids and I never stopped working through things that suck. You’ll go through hell even if you want the divorce but you’ll get to the end. And you’ll be a better person for it.