When you first got married, you could probably never imagine being without your spouse. But sadly, divorce — or the dissolution of a marriage — is a reality for many American couples. While it might seem like you’re the only one going through it, around 827,000 divorces take place each year.
But as tough as a divorce can be for you and your spouse, it’s likely going to be even harder on your kids. Although getting a divorce can ultimately the best decision for everyone involved, it’s not going to be easy to break the news to your children and answer the questions they may have. After all, the average four-year-old asks 437 questions a day — and some of those may be uncomfortable for you to answer. However, handling this situation with as much grace and love as possible will serve you and your kids well. Here are some tips to help you talk to your kids about your impending divorce with as much compassion as you can.
Present a United Front
If at all possible, you and your soon-to-be ex should talk to your kids together to break the news. While you might not really want to spend much time with your spouse right now, it’s important that you do this for the sake of your children. Agree on a message that you can express together to that your kids can avoid feeling confused or overwhelmed by blaming statements or half-truths. Be sure that you both take responsibility for the end of your marriage and present it as a mutual decision. Even if one of you fought for the divorce and the other wanted to make the marriage work, it’s important that you not express that to your kids right now. Otherwise, your children may reject one of you out of hurt and anger.
Figure Out the Right Timing
Timing is everything when it comes to this discussion. Although there’s never a “good” time to have this conversation, there are certainly bad times to tell your children you’re getting a divorce. For example, you don’t want to blurt out the news in the middle of an argument or emotional moment. Ideally, you’ll want to plan to tell your kids on a weekend, as this can allow you to have some other time together without the pressures of work or school. You should avoid telling your kids on a holiday, right before school, or at bedtime; it’s likely that telling your children will be quite emotional, so you’ll want to “cushion the blow,” so to speak, with other distractions. You and your spouse should keep your decision between you until you know for sure what the plan is and that your choice is final.
Explain What Will Happen Next
Kids don’t do well in uncertain situations — and the current health crisis offers enough uncertainty as it is. When you sit down to talk with your children, make sure you have a plan in place about what’s going to happen now. Be ready to talk about where your kids will live, how they’ll split their time, and other details. Even if you don’t yet have a formal custody agreement in place, you’ll need to reach some decisions together before telling your kids what’s going to happen. In this case, “I don’t know” isn’t a good enough answer. It’s important to provide a sense of stability for your kids and make sure they don’t have any fears or anxieties about whether they’ll have a place to live or how often they’ll see their parents.
Expect Emotional Outcomes
Your kids will probably have a lot of questions to ask, but they may not be able to articulate their concerns right now. In many cases, their anger and sadness will manifest in emotional outbursts or even changes in behavior. Some kids might start wetting the bed again, while others are especially clingy. They may also act out or have trouble sleeping. But many children may not exhibit much of an initial reaction at all. Keep in mind that every child will deal with divorce differently. Even if they seem to be adjusting well at first, it might not be a bad idea to consider therapy for your kids to ensure a healthy transition.
Telling your child that your marriage is over will never be an easy task. But as long as you reassure them that both parents still love them, that the divorce is not their fault, and that everything will be okay, you’ll be able to weather the storm together.