Telling your kids about divorce is one of the most difficult tasks you may have to deal with as a parent. Unfortunately, many parents believe that this is a conversation that happens only once, but actually, it’s one that will occur over and over again. Being faced with the challenge of how to talk to your children about your new life and dating after your breakup is tricky and you may not know where to start.
Keep in mind that the way you tell your kids about the reasons for your divorce will set the tone for how they feel about it in the years to come. Accept that things may get emotional and that children express their feelings in different ways. For instance, they may sit there stoically and ask very few questions, or ask every question in the book. Be sensitive to their reactions and show empathy to them when they express negative emotions. Avoid being defensive and strive to listen and affirm their feelings.
In my experience, boys tend to be more vocal about any negative feelings, while girls may seem okay initially but have a delayed reaction – a phenomenon dubbed “The Sleeper Effect” by divorce expert Judith Wallerstein. This is because many girls are socialized to be “good girls” and more compliant than boys and they may worry about disappointing or overwhelming you with negative feelings. However, children are unique and may react in unexpected ways to their parents’ divorce.
There’s no question that dating again after a divorce can be a self-confidence boost but also a challenge for single moms and their kids. If you date too soon, it might confuse your children. But be sure to socialize and let them know you appreciate time to relax with friends and will eventually date if you plan to do so. Be sure to introduce your kids to someone as soon as it starts to get serious. The quality of our new partner’s interactions with your children will help you decide if they are a good match for your family.
The following is a list of tips of how to discuss divorce and dating with your children. It’s important to note that the approach you take with your kids will depend largely on their age and ability to process information. When in doubt, consult a child and family therapist about the best way to explain this news to your children and any specific concerns you may have. This is especially important if you anticipate your divorce will be high conflict or you and your ex have very different parenting styles.
1. Pick a time and location that is private and works best for your children when you talk to them. Make sure you are in a quiet environment that is free of intrusions from other people. Avoid having discussions the night before they have a big test, an audition for a school play, etc.
2. Don’t bad-mouth the other parent. In many cases, if you and your spouse have had problems for some time, your children may be expecting the divorce or already understand some of the reasons (although this can depend on their age). Consider saying something like, “Your dad and I have tried really hard to get along, and it’s just not working anymore.” Avoid: “Your dad has a bad temper.”
3. Reassure your child. Explain that there is nothing your kids could have done to prevent the divorce and there isn’t anything they can do to fix it. Remind them that you love them very much and nothing will change that. Let your children know that they’re not to blame for the divorce. The most important thing about talking to your kids about divorce is to explain that your breakup has nothing to do with them. Plan on repeating this message fairly often.
4. Tell Your Kids what will change, and what will stay the same. Your children will crave predictability and constancy more than ever. They will probably have basic questions about what will happen next, like “Where will I live?” or “Who will take me to school?” This is why having a parenting plan in place is so important. Several co-parenting websites offer a “custody calendar.” Explain where mom and dad will live, and how often you will both see them. Discuss important things related to their routine, and underscore what is staying the same, like: “Mom will still drive you to school every morning.”
5. Tell the honest, simple truth, and encourage questions. It’s impossible to predict your children’s reaction but be up front about your divorce “from the start.” It’s important that all of their questions are answered as honestly and completely as possible. You don’t need to give your kids more information than they need, such as: “Dad has cheated on mom twice in the past year.” But you can give them basic information such as: “Mom and Dad have fallen out of love, but still love you very much.”
6. Remind your kids that you want to encourage an open dialog as time progresses. The first conversation you have, when you break the news of the divorce, should not be the last. Your divorce will unfold in your children’s life in unexpected ways as they mature. If your children know they have two parents who are open to continuing the conversation and healing from divorce, everyone’s best interests will be protected.
7. Let your children know that you plan to date (if you do) but that you won’t introduce them to anyone unless you’re fairly sure the relationship is serious or more than casual. You want to reassure them that your time with them is special and you’ll be sure to keep it sacred. Also, tell your kids that you will try not disrupt any planned activities with them.
8. Explain to your kids that you love being a parent but it’s important for you to carve out your own life apart from being a mom. Now is a great time to explain that you’ll be happier if you have time for socializing; and if you fall in love again it be probably add happiness to all of your lives.
In closing, it’s important to help your kids see that while you’re healing and ready to move forward, they’re a central part of your life. According to divorce expert Rosalind Sedacca “Let your children know you’re healing, feeling better about yourself and are now ready to explore meeting new friends. Remind them how much you love them, how important they are in your life, and that dating has nothing to do with replacing them – ever! Explain that you will still be the attentive parent you’ve always been and that they always come first in your life. Be very clear that no one will ever replace their other parent either!”
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L.J. Burke says
My kids already knew my wife and I were getting a divorce before we told them. This was because my ex-wife did not use common sense when having conversations with her lawyer and mother about the impending divorce. She was loud and emotional on the phone and my kids knew what was going on. They are very smart and intuitive. Please don’t make that mistake. You should tell them in a timely mannor so they don’t find out some other way.
Terry Janette Gaspard says
Hi, Thanks for your somment. It’s so true that the way you tell your children about an impending divorce is key. They deserve to know in a thoughtful way with consideration for their emotional needs and with a chance to ask questions and express concerns.
Terry Janette Gaspard says
Hi, Thanks for your comment. Kids deserve to hear about their parents’ divorce in a thoughtful way with an opportunity to express feelings and ask questions. Hopefully, with both parents present.