Family & Relationships

Divorce and Kids: What to Say

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Telling your kids you are getting a divorce is probably one of the hardest things you will have to do. There is never really a good time to tell your children this news, however, how you deal with your kids can determine how well they weather the process of divorce.

Timing is everything with divorce and kids.

Before you have the conversation, consider when and how you’ll tell them. For starters, make sure you have reached a final decision. Having children think about an ‘impending’ or a ‘probably’ divorce is very stressful. Next, tell your children together. Agree to have a united front and set the tone that you can both work together. Finally, choose a time when you aren’t in a rush. Allow time to digest the news and have ample time for them to ask questions.

Don't tell everything.

What you say and how much you tell depends on the age of the children. I’m of the mindset that less information is best. Keep the reasoning simple and don’t badmouth one another. Details like who cheated or who started the whole process aren’t for children of any age. Older children may figure out what’s going on, but you don’t have to be the source of the intimate details.

My parents divorced when I was in high school. I knew that my father had cheated, but every time I went to broach the subject with my mother, all she would say was, “this isn’t a discussion for you.” End of story. She didn’t want to alter my relationship with my father even though he had hurt her. She was able to be the bigger person and put her love for me over her anger at him.

What not to say

Three things never to tell your children:

  1. Never ask a child to take sides. They love you both and asking a child to choose will backfire on you later in life.
  2. Never ask your child to spy for you or eavesdrop and report back. This process is difficult enough without asking them to play private investigator.
  3. Never tell a child that the other parent doesn’t love them. This goes without explanation, but this could be one of the most damaging things you could ever do to a child.

Reinforce what's staying the same.

Three important things to tell children of any age:

  1. Tell them you love them more than anything. Let them know that just because you are getting divorced, it has nothing to do with how much you love them.
  2. Let them know it’s not their fault. Some children may falsely believe that they have something to do with your divorce. Assure them that this is not the case.
  3. Reassure them that you aren’t leaving them. You can explain that while you might not see them every night anymore, it doesn’t mean you are leaving them.

Not quite sure where to begin? Try these books:

For younger children, consider Two Homes by Claire Masurel (Candlewick Press, 2003). It is a matter of fact, yet positive outlook on divorce. 

For the tween and teen crowd, consider The Divorce Helpbook for Teens by Cynthia MacGregor (Impact Publishers, 2004.). This one gets five stars for tackling this tough age with real advice.

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