Telling your children about divorce
Telling your children about your divorce is one of the hardest, and one of the most important conversations you will ever have with them. It’s made harder because often we are still processing our own emotions around the split and are barely holding ourselves together. But, we need to be honest with them.
Let me use an analogy… Imagine you are a child and your family car has broken down on the motorway. Your parents are calm and in control. They get you onto the bank and behind the protection of a hedge. They speak gently together and work out how to resolve the issue under the bonnet or how to get some help. You feel safe. You feel everything will be fine.
Now imagine you are a child and your family car has broken down. But this time, your parents immediately start fighting and blaming each other. They are swearing and shouting both at you and each other. There is no plan and they seem confused and scared and don’t know what to do. Do you still feel safe and that everything will be fine? Do you perhaps feel that you need to get out the car manual yourself or look up the number of the recovery service? It’s a very different experience, isn’t it?
So it’s the same with telling your children about divorce. Your children need to see you calm and in control (even if you don’t feel it!) They need to see you working together on a plan. They need to hear you communicating politely and calmly. They need to feel safe and secure.
When to tell your children
Very often, when parents come into mediation and I ask them what they have told the children, the parents tell me they have not yet said anything to the children. The parents tell me that the children ‘seem fine’. Or perhaps ‘are used to Mum/Dad working away from home for much of the time and therefore have seen little change to their routine’. Or perhaps, ‘have exams or holidays or something important coming up and therefore the time is not right to tell them’.
If this is what you are saying to yourself, be careful. Children are incredibly astute and intuitive. The chances are that they WILL be aware that something is afoot. They may not know what, but they will have noticed. By not being direct with them, it means they have to work it out for themselves. The problem with this is that when we don’t know what is going on but we are worried, we tend to jump to conclusions. And often those conclusions are the wrong ones. Children may feel it is their fault that their parents don’t seem to be getting on or that it is their responsibility to smooth the troubled waters. Even very young children can pick up the atmosphere in a household and feel insecure and anxious.
Keep things simple and clear: Aim to tell your children as soon as you have made a final decision that the marriage is over and you are sure that the decision is not going to change.
How you handle these early stages of divorce is vitally important to your child’s future feelings of security and happiness.
For more tips on how to tell your children, see my blog post: How to talk to your children about divorce: Part 2.
There is plenty of information in books and on the internet about how to tell your children. My favourite is always Christine McGhee’s wonderful book ‘Parenting Apart’ but here are a few links that may also help;
If you would like to talk more about how to tell your children about your divorce please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07706513496.