If you and your spouse have decided to divorce, you have likely spent a significant amount of time unhappy in your marriage. You have possibly pursued marriage counselling, and have chosen not to stay together. Although deciding to divorce may feel like somewhat of a relief, or represent a finish line in your relationship, your children’s heartache is only beginning. This first conversation is especially delicate: it will set the precedent for their lives post-separation. We have noticed a few patterns that work well, however every situation is deeply personal and unique. Prior to having this conversation with your children, we encourage you to consider your specific circumstances
Wait until the time is right
Your children have likely gone their entire lives knowing that they have two parents who love them, and who are deeply in love with one another. The announcement of an impending divorce will be very hard to accept and process. That being said, the timing and content of this discussion should be well planned out. It is important to only tell your children that you are getting divorced if you’re certain about your decision. There will likely be strong reactions to this news, so tell them when you have a few hours to process and decompress together.
Present a united front
Throughout this time of extreme change, any consistency that you and your partner can maintain is key. To show your children that the two of you are amicable and cooperative, we recommend telling your children together. Tell your children all at once, to reinforce the fact that you are, and will continue to be, a loving family unit. A united front is equally important when considering what to tell your children. Try to be honest about why you are separating and decide on the reason you will give your children for your separation.
Limit the details
As the closest members of your family, your children deserve to know why you’re getting divorced. But they do not need to know the details of your every argument, the extent of your unhappiness or the amount of pain the two of you are going through. Explanations such as growing apart, weak communication and differing interests are more appropriate than exposing the details of your partner’s affair, for example.
Don’t play the blame game
Your children don’t need to know who, if either party, is to blame for the fall out of your marriage. Likewise, it’s important to reinstate to them that the divorce is not their fault, and it is entirely a result of your relationship with one another. It may be easier for children to hear that your separation was a mutual decision between the two of you.
Although this divorce is a life-changing milestone for you and your spouse, involving your children introduces a responsibility for you to care for and focus on your children's well-being. They have just learned news that will forever shape their understanding of family, so it’s normal for them to react in a number of ways. Brace yourself for tears, anger, or denial. Keep calm in the face of these reactions and do not try to stifle them. Let your kids react naturally, and comfort them when they are ready. Consequently, your children should not feel compelled to comfort you.
It’s normal for your kids to have many questions. Experts say that younger children especially will be more self-concerned when hearing the news of their parents’ divorce. Anticipate and be prepared for questions about where the two of you will be living, where the children will be living, and how day-to-day life will look after your separation.
By the time you share the news of your separation with your kids, you should have answers to the above questions, which they will likely ask. In an attempt to be transparent and maintain consistency, give them as much information as you can. Most importantly, tell them with complete confidence that you and your spouse respect and care for one another. Remind them that you both love them, and that you are still a family. It will comfort them to know that the only change is the type of relationship mom and dad will have with one another going forward.
But don’t make promises you can’t keep
As important as it is to keep consistency, you also do not want to give your children false hope. If this separation will conclude in them relocating neighbourhoods and consequently schools, do not tell them that you will be staying in the same home. This conversation should be used to build trust by being as honest as you can be. Remember, it’s okay to tell them that you are still working out the details.
Check in with them
It will take time for your children to truly understand the impact of this news. Routinely ask them how they are doing, and how they feel about your divorce. Although you can’t change the reality they now face, you can offer them your unconditional love and support.
Support your ex going forward
One common mistake that divorced parents make is failing to support the relationship between their children and their ex-spouse. Unless your ex is abusive or can no longer have a role in the children’s lives, it is very important for your children to grow up with the love and involvement of both parents. Do not complicate this relationship by asking your child for information about the other parent. Likewise, encourage your child to enjoy the time they have with the other parent, just as they cherish time spent with you.
We hope this post has given you some insight on how to approach an important conversation with your children. Get started on completing your divorce by generating your separation agreement today.