Children grow up surrounded by notions of what is “happily ever after” and what their family should look like and how they should behave. When parents fight or just don’t get along, although the child is sad, in most cases, they don’t conceptualise their parents getting divorced.
So how do you tell them?
Remember, it is not about you! You have made the decision to change your life and that is an empowering and brave decision – telling your child is not about that – it is about their world and their fears and aspirations.
There is a plethora of articles’ on the web that give noteworthy tips on what you should do, but life is not a planned event and not everything can be controlled. So a fail safe way on how to tell your children that you are getting divorced is to be mindful of what not to do.
Pick your moment
Telling them when they are tired, angry or sleepy is standard poor communications if you were presenting something to a seasoned adult but to do that to a child is just plain cruel. Be mindful of how your child is feeling at the time and what is happening in their lives. In other words, telling your 13year old that you are getting divorced just as she is sitting for an important assessment is sub optimal.
Plan your moment
There is no need to choreograph your news like a wedding but there is merit in having a plan of what you want to say. Have an agenda in mind and a general flow of things that you should cover. Again, remember, it’s not about you – it’s about them. Yes, you can start with the statement that you are getting divorced but then shift the focus on issues that will affect the child, for example how it will affect their living arrangements and how often they will see the other parent. Redefine the perception of the family unit i.e. just because you are no longer going to be living together does not mean that they are no longer part of a healthy and functioning family. Remind them that this is your decision and not a reflection of anything that they may have done.
Your children may surprise you and say that they knew that it was coming or they may burst into tears. Whatever the response is, a good way of keeping communications flowing is to be respectful that there is no right or wrong way to react. The right or wrong way is in how you respond. Children are vulnerable as well as ego centric and as such, their responses are clues on underlying concerns or fears. The news you are giving has many implications – know the implications to your child and you can prepare for the reactions. Tune into what they are saying, ask questions and respond to their underlying issues. You know your child best and you will have an idea if they are not satisfied with your responses.
Keep an open dialogue
So you have told your children that you are getting divorced and it went well – at the time. After the talk about getting divorced, comes the reality of the divorce i.e. the change in living arrangements, dinner times, family get together, to name a few. Each change in event will come with a new set of challenges the child has never faced before. Let them know that the discussion of “we are getting divorced” is never over and if need be, they can talk about it and raise questions as they arise. Most of all, if you don’t know and don’t have an answer to something, be brave enough to be honest and say you don’t know. You were in a family together – you can deal with the implications of a divorce together.