Thousands of kids experience the stress and unfortunate reality of divorce each year. There is no way of predicting how your kids will react to the news of your divorce, as this will depend on their age, personality, and circumstances of the separation. Unfortunately, every divorce will impact kids negatively, and their initial reactions will be shock, sadness, frustration, or anger.
During this challenging time, the most important steps that parents can take to help their children cope are the following: keep apparent conflict away from kids, ensure that kids stay on task with their daily activities, and remain involved in your kids’ lives. Adults who go through divorce need support from family, friends, and acquaintances, but don’t seek help from your kids. On the contrary, you should be the one supporting your children, and they shouldn’t have to carry the burden of divorce.
Breaking the News
There’s no easy way to tell your kids about the divorce. All parents can do is lessen the pain by both being present for the conversation. As soon as both parents are sure about the plans, sit down with your children, and have this talk with them. Practice how you intend to tell your kids so that you do not become angry and upset during this talk and say bad things about your former spouse in front of them. Try to leave your feelings of anger, guilt, or blame out of it.
This discussion should fit your child’s age, maturity level, and temperament. Regardless of what occurs during the conversation, you must deliver this message at a minimum: what happened is between mom and dad, and it’s not your fault. Children are susceptible to blaming themselves for divorces. Tell your kids that sometimes adults change the way they love each other, or that they don’t always agree on things, so they have to live apart.
Helping Your Kids Cope
Some kids will hold on to the hope that their parents will someday return together, even after the finality of divorce has been explained to them. Mourning the loss of a family is to be expected, but over time you and your kids will have to accept the situation. Reassure your kids that’s it’s fine to wish that mommy and daddy get back together, but also explain the finality of your decision.
Be prepared to answer the following inevitable questions that your children will ask:
Who will I live with?
Will I have to move?
Where will I go to school?
Where will each parent live?
Can I still do my favorite activities?
Being honest isn’t always easy, but you owe it to your children to be upfront with them and give them insight into their future—even if it hurts you. Legitimize your kids’ feelings by saying phrases such as “I know you feel sad now,” followed by asking them what will make them feel better.
Although you are divorcing your spouse, this does not mean you can no longer be a parent. Your children need you now more than ever. Divorce is a complicated and process, but open communication and a stable support system will help you and your family heal.