As a family law attorney and a marriage and family therapist, we have seen many examples, both good and bad, of the impact of divorce on children. Over the years, we have gained some insight into how to alleviate some of the more troubling aspects of divorce on children by creating an atmosphere where the children can flourish. Below are some tips.
- Choose a good time to tell your children that you and your spouse are getting a divorce. You and your spouse should be there together when breaking the news. Choose a time when everyone in the family has no commitments the next few hours. You do not want to tell the children this, and then have to run to a birthday party or a soccer game. If you cannot find a day like this, you need to cancel some of your commitments, to free up a day. Sensitivity is certainly called for, so make sure you take into consideration holidays, birthdays, the school calendar, or anything else that might be special to the children. You certainly do not want your child to associate their birthday or Thanksgiving with your divorce. We have heard far too many stories of the divorce announcement being made with a Christmas tree in the room, or the children dressed for Halloween. When breaking the news, select a quiet location within the family home. A neutral space is best, such as a dining or living area. The children should have an option to retreat somewhere after the news is given, to give them a chance to reflect and adjust.
- Together, you should practice what you are going to say to the children, as well as what you will not say. It is important to decide together, as parents, what you believe to be “adult information”, and agree not to share with the children when they ask why the divorce is happening. You should practice and rehearse what and how you will tell the children involved. You should definitely use the word “divorce.” Many people are uncomfortable with that word but you should begin by saying what is true, “We have decided to get a divorce.”
- Be prepared for any type of emotional reaction. Know that your children have a right to their feelings, no matter what they are. High emotions are quite normal in this situation. Prepare yourself for any type of emotional reaction from your children, especially if they have no awareness that there have been difficulties in your marriage.
- Expect the “Why?” questions. Be prepared to have an age appropriate answer to that question. Many parents are thrown off when their children ask questions. Consider the age of your child or children when deciding what details should be shared. Some information, regardless of age, should never be shared. This includes alcohol and infidelity. Children should not be placed in the middle of any parental dispute, nor should they be given “the dirt” about what is going on in the divorce. Set boundaries with your spouse about what will be shared and when it will be shared. It is important to respect those boundaries, no matter your emotional state. Saying disparaging things about your spouse may make you feel good in the short term, but in the long term it may cause friction for everyone involved.
- Once you tell your children you are getting a divorce, be available for them the rest of the day or the weekend to talk to them about this. Ask them questions about this, and tell them it is all right to share their feelings. A good thing to say is, “It is OK to have feelings about that. It is OK to talk about this with me, because it is a big change, isn’t it?”
While the marriage is ending, your relationship with your spouse is not over. You and your spouse will need to focus on creating a new co-parenting relationship. The way you will raise your children has changed in many ways, and it is important to discuss those changes. It is a new beginning as a team. Think about the values that you want to instill in your children, as well as your goals for them.
Your access to your spouse will be different after the separation and divorce, so you may want to schedule a monthly meeting or call to discuss your children. You will need to discuss how you will handle holidays, school events, parent/teacher meetings, birthdays, athletic competitions and other events. Will you both attend? Will you rotate responsibilities? Children thrive on routine and order, so the sooner these things are ironed out, the smoother the transition will be for your children.
Eventually, you or your former spouse may become romantically involved with others. How do you want to handle the communication of that, along with a possible remarriage? For your children’s sake, it is essential to be supportive of your former spouse’s new relationship. Not only does it help the child deal with the stress of a new adult in their life, but you will want that same support and consideration in your own relationships.
There is no way to erase the pain and difficulty a divorce brings to the children involved. But with some planning and consideration, you and your former spouse will provide the consistency needed to help your children have the easiest transition. To schedule a consultation, contact us at any of our three locations.
Co-author: Linda Solomon LPC, LMFT