It is only natural that as a parent you dread talking to your child about an impending divorce. Us parents want to protect and shield our children from emotional or physical harm BUT it is important that you take on the task at hand and do so in a way that helps your child cope with the fact that his/her parents have decided to divorce.
Sitting down and talking to your children about your divorce is the first step you will take in the divorce process. That talk could set the standard for how the rest of your divorce plays out and how well your children adjust to the divorce. Parents who care enough about their child to break the news gently and appropriately will also, more than likely, consider their child in each step of the divorce process.
Below are a few basic points to keep in mind when telling your child about your divorce:
Make a plan that involves Mom and Dad both being present when the talk is delivered.
Make sure that your child knows that he/she is loved by both parents. Instead of telling your child you no longer love each other, express how much you both love your child.
Explain to your child why there is going to be a divorce. You want to give age-appropriate explanations but most children are going to wonder “what happened” and have a right to an answer to that question. Share your feelings with your child and encourage them to share their feelings AND be willing to listen and validate their feelings.
If you have more than one child, talk to them as a group initially. Once all know the news take them individually so that you can learn what each child is feeling and thinking. Each child will respond differently, have different questions and concerns. Each should be able to express their concerns individually in a conversation with Mom and Dad.
How you talk to your child is as important as what you tell him/her. Be aware of your body language, your tone of voice and your behavior when the other parent is speaking. Don’t interrupt your spouse when he/she is speaking or allow conflict between the two of you to color the conversation you are having with your child.
Keep in mind that there is a difference in a child’s emotional understanding and intellectual understanding. They will process the news of your divorce emotionally at a different rate than is processed intellectually. Processing the news will take more time emotionally than intellectually. Due to this, you will be expected to have more than one conversation about the divorce based on your child’s emotional needs.
Encourage your child to ask questions but don’t be surprised if there are none. As the child processes the information there will be questions. Let your child know you are available to answer questions as they come up.
Be able to explain to your child what will happen to them once you separate or divorce. Provide plenty of details about where the child will live, how often they will see the other parent who will be moving from the family home. Your child will feel more secure if you are able to assure him/her that your divorce will not interfere with their stability or relationship with either parent.
Be willing to have the conversation over and over again. As your child ages, the questions they have will be different. There may be many conversations, some years down the road about your decision to divorce. Your child will become more sophisticated with age so be prepared to answer the hard questions that come with that sophistication. You will move on from your divorce, your child won’t. Just because you no longer think about it doesn’t mean your child doesn’t. Give them the right to the answers they need to help them deal with a situation that will impact them emotionally for years, if not decades to come.
Here is something every parent needs to understand about divorce…what you say to your child is less important than what you do once you decide to divorce. That first, second and third conversation are important but, “actions speak louder than words” so the way you parent and the example you set by your behavior will determine what the lasting effects of divorce are on your child.