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Hearing THE NEWS about divorce
“One day I came home from school. I heard my mom and dad talking and I heard my mom say, ‘do you love me?’ My dad said ‘no’ and then after that he moved out.” – 10 year old girl
“I noticed that my mom and dad weren’t sleeping in the same room anymore. No one said anything to me. Then my mom told me that they were getting a divorce. I wasn’t sure what that meant.” – 12 year old boy
“My mom and dad used to fight a lot. Then my mom started working at different times than my dad. When dad would come home, she would go to work. Then one day they told us that mom was moving to another city close by. And we were going to go live with her and visit dad on weekends.” – 14 year old girl
Studies of adult children of divorce teach us that, for many of them, hearing about their parent’s divorce was a time that forever changed their lives. Some remember this time very vividly.
Hearing this announcement of parental separation or divorce is a very significant time in your children’s lives. So it’s I-M-P-O-R-T-A-N-T that you do it right.
It’s important that you know what to say
It’s also important that you pick a time that allows time for your child to process it and ask questions. Don’t be surprised if you hear them ask the same questions over and over until they feel reassured.
Make sure you choose a time when no one is tired or hungry. As you know, when someone is feeling hangry, it’s never a good time to talk about anything.
It’s very normal for your child to have a variety of emotions when hearing the news, such as shock, sadness, anger, confusion, worry or even apathy. Don’t be surprised if they say nothing, some kids process things more slowly. Or they may not fully understand what it means, and not even know how to respond yet.
This is a time that your child desperately needs to know that you love him/her and that you are there for them. So remember to reassure them as they process this information.
Don’t assume once and done will take care of it. Even as adults, we need time for things to sink in and time to process it, kids need this even more, even if they aren’t talking about it.
So what does your child need to know?
- They need to know the truth, that you and their other parent are separating. At this point I don’t recommend that you use the term divorce as in most cases that happens later, after the initial separation. Tell them you have decided on a separation at this time.
- It’s important they know that no matter what, it is not their fault, nothing they did caused the separation, and there’s nothing they can do to change it.
- Regardless of what happens, reassure them that both parents will continue to love them. Period. Kids need to be reassured that this is between the two parents and not between parents and kids.
- Let them know there will be some changes in everyday family life. Mom and dad will tell them about the changes.
- They need to know who they will live with and have some idea of the custody arrangement (even if it is just temporary at this time – they need to know this too).
- They will continue to have a relationship with the parent that is either moving out or the non-custodial parent just as if they were living with that parent full time.
- Even if mom and dad are upset and angry with each other, that this does not mean they (kids) have to take sides or feel like they are in the middle (parents–try really hard to shield your kids from your conflicts and negative feelings towards each other).
I recommend planning what you will say ahead of time and even rehearsing it. Using the sandwich approach, alternate the good and bad news.
Many experts recommend doing this together as parents. Just make sure you can be civil to each other and not create extra tension for your children at this time.
In other words, this is the time to put on your big boy/big girl pants and treat each other kindly and respectfully, just like you would treat the parent of your precious children. If you can’t do this together on your own, then bring along a neutral person you both agree on that can help mediate.
Here is a sample of what you might say:
Mom/Dad: We need to talk to you about something very important. First, we want you to know that your (dad/mom) and I both love you very much. We want to tell you about some changes that will be going on in our family.
Mom/Dad: Sometimes moms and dads have a hard time getting along with each other. We both make mistakes, and as you know, sometimes we get mad and argue and say unkind things to each other. Although we have tried very hard to solve it, so far we haven’t been able to do that. We are just making each other sad by living together, so we have decided to separate. Sometimes grownups who are married decide that getting separated is the best thing for the family. In about a month (specify time frame), (mom/dad) will be moving into another (house/apartment) a few miles away (talk about the distance). Mom/dad will see you (state the time you have decided on). I (mom/dad) will still come to all your events and you can call me anytime.
Mom/Dad: We want you to know that us deciding to live in separate homes has nothing to do with you. This is not your fault, you did nothing to cause this. It’s between mom and dad and our relationship with each other. We are sorry that even though it’s our problems, it will mean there’s going to be some changes for you. We understand that this might make you feel sad, angry, worried, or upset and we want you to know that it’s ok to have those feelings.
Mom/Dad: We will always love you, and even though we will no longer be living together, that doesn’t change your relationship with either of us. We don’t want you to feel like you have to choose sides because it’s important that you still get to love both parents the same, no matter what. Do you have any questions?
Preparing your child for one of the biggest changes of their lives needs to be done carefully and thoughtfully.
Set up your parenting plan with my guide and template found here.