February 18th, 2022
Once it is clear that you and your spouse are going to divorce, you will need to let your kids know what is happening. Telling the kids is one of the hardest parts of the entire divorce process, but it might also be the most important. Your kids will need to know what is happening and to a certain degree why. It is important to not give them more information than they need or is appropriate. They will need to know what to expect as the divorce unfolds, but not all the little details. What will change? What will stay the same? Above all else, they need to know that their parents love them and that nothing will ever change that. Every family is unique, but the following are some tips that Louise has learned about how to tell your kids about divorce.
Plan What You Are Going to Say With Your Spouse
When you tell your kids about divorce, your children will need to hear from both of you about what is going on. No matter how hurt or angry either of you might feel towards each other, the kids should have a consistent account from both of you. You might not agree on much, but you can find a way to tell the kids together. This process will help you and your spouse prepare for co-parenting after divorce.
If working together with your spouse is too difficult at this point in time, help is available. A pre-divorce consultation can help you find the resources you need. There are Neutral Child Specialists, who often work in the Collaborative divorce process, who have experience helping parents create a We Statement and agree on how and when to talk to the kids. Louise can refer you to highly qualified professionals to help with this task.
Find the Right Time
Timing is everything, as they say. Telling the children too soon, such as before you have a plan for when one of you is going to move out, can cause them distress. You also should not wait until shortly before you separate. Kids need time to process the news. Telling them a day before one of you moves out could deprive them of the ability to work through their feelings.
The exact right time to talk to your kids depends on your family’s circumstances. It also depends on what the kids have going on and their age. You should tell the kids when they will have time to adjust to the news and talk about it, such as on a weekend. Try to avoid holidays, birthdays, or other special days.
Explain Why the Divorce Is Happening Without Blame
Whatever your reasons for getting a divorce, you want to provide your kids with a narrative that does not cast blame on anyone. It can be tempting to assign blame. You might feel a need to vent about your spouse, or to be honest about your own misdeeds. That probably will not help anyone at this point. The details of why the divorce is happening are less important than reassuring the kids that you love them.
Try to use “we” statements as much as possible. For example, you might say something like “We believe that this is the best thing for the family.” This presents a unified message to the kids, and it helps prevent them from feeling like they have conflicting loyalties to their parents. Kids need both parents and pitting the kids against a parent does so much harm to them. Do not introduce the idea that the divorce is not their fault. They weren’t thinking about fault until you introduced the idea.
Talk to Everyone Together
Once you and your spouse have agreed on what to say and found the right time to say it, get everybody together. You should tell all of your kids together, even if there are large age gaps between them. You want them to hear the news from you, not from an older brother or sister that you already told. If an older kid has questions that might not be age-appropriate for a younger child, you can follow up with them later.
Tell the Kids What Is Going to Change
Your kids are going to want to know how their lives will change. Will they have to move or change schools? How often will they see the parent who is moving out? Be as specific as you can about what will be different once you and your spouse separate, and after the divorce is complete. If you don’t know the answers to those questions, you can tell them that you are working together to figure out what will work for everyone and will let them know when you have more information. Stressing that both of you will continue to be there for them as their parents and that you will always love them, is imperative to them feeling secure.
Tell the Kids What Will Stay the Same
Be specific about what will not change, too. If one parent is moving out, but the kids are staying put with the other parent, reassure them that they will still be in the same home and at the same school. Above all else, let them know that you are still their parents, and you will always love them and be there for them.
Give Details About the Parent Who Is Moving Out
If one parent is moving out, let the kids know where they are going. Where will they live? How often they will see the kids? Will they talk on the phone, on Zoom, or by other means? Can they come and visit? Will they have their own rooms there?
Remind Them That You Are Still, and Always Will Be, a Family
As mentioned earlier, perhaps the most important point to make with your kids is that you will always be a family. No matter what happens in your marriage, nothing will ever change a parent’s love for their children.
Answer Their Questions
They will have questions. Answer them all as best you can, keeping their ages in mind. Do not be afraid to tell them if you do not know the answer to a question. If you do not know the answer, but know how to find out, tell them this and follow up with them later. Let them know that they can always ask you questions, and you will always do your best to answer.
Be Open and Honest When You Tell Kids About Divorce
It is natural to want to spare your children from painful experiences, but do not lie to them. Misleading them could cause them to think they should not be honest with others, including you. Be open and honest about what is happening, and provide as much information as is appropriate for the children’s ages. You can acknowledge this is difficult or sad for them and for you.
Be Patient With How Each Kid Reacts to the News
Your kids will need time to adjust to this new situation. Each child might have a different reaction, such as anger, sadness, or the appearance of indifference. When you tell your kids about divorce, let these feelings play out, while making clear that you are always available to answer their questions or talk about it.
Louise Livesay is a family lawyer who has helped families in the Twin Cities area resolve disputes for more than twenty years. She uses Minnesota’s family laws to assist clients in transforming their relationships. She can show you how to prepare your kids for divorce. If you have questions about collaborative law or divorce mediation, please contact us today online or at (651) 964-3887.