One of the most typical questions asked of me by parents who are beginning the divorce process is, “What should we tell the children and how should we tell them?” Most parents, understandably, feel awful in having to tell their children about their pending divorce and how all their lives are going to be permanently changed. Such a task can generate tremendous pangs of guilt, sadness, and anger. Moreover, parents want to protect their children from the emotional pain of divorce, and want to protect their children from viewing themselves as the cause of the divorce.
In this excellent blog posting, Donald Saposnek offers these suggestions for how to tell children of an impending divorce:
Tell your children the truth about the separation and divorce in advance, whenever possible.
Both parents together should tell the children. If there is more than one child, it is generally better to tell the siblings together. This optimizes the support they will feel from each other and from the family meeting together to discuss this important news. The discussion should take place at a time that is distraction-free and at a place, such as home, that is familiar and comfortable.
Use words that are addressed to the specific developmental level of your child or to each of your children’s level of understanding. Talk to young children more slowly and with simple words and simple phrases. Talk to older children and adolescents in more adult ways.
Set aside enough time to answer any questions that the children may have about what is going to happen after the separation. Do not tell them right before you have a business meeting, a phone conference call, a hair appointment, or a soccer practice. Allow several hours of unplanned time after this discussion.
If parents work together in their divorce, even if they weren’t able to work together in their marriage, the children will benefit. Remember that even if the first wish of children of divorce (i.e. that Mom and Dad will get back together) can’t come true, their second wish (i.e. that Mom and Dad will cooperate with each other and not fight) can come true. That is up to you. Please make it happen, for the sake of your children. Begin with developing a mutual story of your divorce.