The most difficult decision has been made: you’re getting divorced. You and your spouse, after tearful arguments, perhaps loud arguments, recriminations, regrets, marriage counseling, and yet another attempt at a ‘this will save us’ weekend trip away, have decided to call it quits. You’ve decided to get divorced, and, in addition to the sadness, melancholy, and anger, you may even feel a little relief: a decision has been made, and you can see the next chapter of your life on the horizon.
Now comes the hard part. Now you have to tell the children.
Let’s take a look at some of the best practice ways you can do this:
- Preparation: Speak with your spouse beforehand about when and what to tell your children, and commit to telling the children together. Though your spouse may not be your favorite person in the world (indeed, you may barely be speaking with them at this point), it’s important to set aside a time to speak with your partner as to how to do this. Brew a cup of tea (or pour a glass of wine) and, without your children, outline the perimeters of who will say what. Try to listen respectfully and civilly to your spouse’s ideas here— the same way you want your ideas to be received. Remember the children are the most important part of this: what do they need to hear? What will reassure them of your mutual, unconditional love, and what will most mitigate the damage, and/or blame, grief, and sadness they will most likely feel? Perhaps the most important aspect of preparation to remember is that once you’ve both developed a script you feel comfortable using with your children, stick to it— no matter how you feel, try not to improvise in the moment.
- Content: What exactly are you saying in your script? This often depends upon the ages and emotional maturity of the children, and no two children are alike. As a general rule, try to be specific and honest: sugarcoating only makes it worse as the children realize you are separating, and likely headed for divorce. Don’t rush; this is an important topic, and you want to go through all of the ways this may impact their lives, allowing them to ask any and all questions they may have about how their new home life is going to work. If you’re not sure yet yourself, it’s okay to honestly say that you’re all going to talk and figure it out together. You’re including them in this conversation now— so be sure to really include them.
- Emotions: Try to keep your emotions in check, even if the conversation gets heated. Children may ask Why? You’re separating and getting divorced, and you can honestly lead them to what they’ve likely seen: arguing, disagreements, fighting. Remember, though they may not realize it at the moment, you’re there to help them understand this will be better for your family in the long run. Promise them your love— and don’t break promises you make to them in this difficult conversation. Though you’re getting divorced, they’re looking to you for guidance and reassurance.
- Afterwards: Your children may want to be alone, in their room, to listen to music, call a friend, or just cry; they may want to be alone with you. Whatever space they may or may not need is fine. It’s important to remember not to give them false hope— just because Mommy and Daddy are taking you for ice cream together doesn’t mean they’ve decided to stay together and aren’t getting divorced— but it’s equally important to be there for them as they absorb and process this difficult news.
- Self-care: Finally, when the children have been tucked in with reassurances of love and their tears have been dried, take a moment for yourself. Chances are you’ll be feeling guilty, regretful, or even like a bad parent. Take a long shower; watch a rerun of a favorite comedy; call a good friend— you’ve done one of the hardest things you’ll ever be asked to do as a parent, and you deserve to recognize that. You’re putting your family on the road to a better, more functioning, more enjoyable place.
Trying to navigate through this tough period can be difficult. Having an experienced family lawyer to help guide you through can be reassuring and make the whole process easier. Consider contacting one for help if you believe you or your family may need it.