Making the decision to divorce is difficult. Sharing the news with your children, in some ways, is even harder. Here are some suggestions for making the process easier on them — and on you.
Work With Your Spouse.
You and your spouse may not be getting along very well, but if you are able to work together on any one thing, this should be it. Telling your children together that you are planning to divorce sends the important message that the two of you will put them first. Telling the children at the same time also ensures that they get a consistent message from both of you about what will happen next in their lives. Divorce is anxiety-provoking enough for kids; getting different messages from both parents escalates the stress for kids. They need to be reassured that though some things are changing, you will still work together to take care of them.
Choose Your Moment Wisely.
Whether or not you’re able to communicate the news about your divorce together with your spouse, plan wisely for the time and place you tell the kids. In general, it’s best to tell them at a time when the conversation won’t be rushed, so they’ll have all the time they need to ask questions.
Similarly, break the news in a private place so they’ll be free to react as they need to. There may never be an ideal moment, but plan to create a safe space and time for your children to receive this news. If possible, share your plans in advance with another trusted adult in their lives like an aunt or favorite teacher, and encourage your kids to confide in this person if they need to talk about the divorce with an adult other than you.
No matter when or how you break the news, never tell your children you’re planning to divorce before your spouse knows about it. That kind of secret is far too much of a burden for kids of any age. And needless to say, don’t tell your children until you’re absolutely sure you’re going to divorce.
Operate on a Need-to-Know Basis.
Divorce sometimes happens because people grow apart, and it sometimes happens because one party has done something, like infidelity, that the other can’t forgive. You and your spouse know exactly why you’re divorcing. Your children do not need that level of detail. As hurt or wronged as you may feel, as much as you may feel the other parent’s transgression reflects terribly on his or her ability to be a good parent, this is not information you should share with your kids. Find another outlet for your anger and pain, like a therapist or friend.
If your spouse is a truly a terrible person, your children will eventually discover that for themselves. Right now, they need you to protect them from the ugliness of your divorce. Tell them what they need to know: that the divorce is happening, that it’s in no way their fault, and that you will continue to love them and be there for them.
Look at Your Divorce Through Your Kids’ Eyes.
Kids don’t have adults’ life experience to make sense of the world. You know that your divorce is absolutely not your kids’ fault, but young children may not realize that. Ask your children if there’s anything they want to ask you about the divorce. You may be surprised at their questions. Reassure them that this is a grown-up decision and that nothing they did or didn’t do could have changed it.
Also remember that children, even older children, are fairly egocentric. This means they will be looking at your divorce through the lens of how it will affect their lives. They will be concerned about where they’ll live, whether they’ll have to change schools, what their friends will say, whether their other parent will still coach their soccer team.
This is not selfishness on your children’s part; it’s developmentally appropriate. Solicit their questions and answer as honestly as you can, reassuring them that you’ll keep their lives as stable as possible. Remember that even though divorce may not have been what you wanted, you at least have some control over divorce decisions. Your children have none, and that feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming. Give them all the support you can muster.
If you are considering filing for divorce in Michigan, talk to an experienced Oakland County divorce attorney to learn more about the best way to help your kids — and yourself — through the process. Attorney Jim Hubbert has handled many divorces and makes it a priority to help his clients do what’s best for their children.