Children and Divorce: How to discuss a divorce with your children

Children and Divorce: How to discuss a divorce with your children

by Ann MacDonald, December 2009

Divorce is painful. You are dealing with difficult emotional, financial and legal issues. You may resent - even hate - your former spouse. But no matter how you feel about the person you are divorcing, it is not okay to say, "Your daddy or mommy is a #%@$!"

So, if you can't say what you are really thinking, what should you tell your children about your divorce?

Before you talk to your children, you need to think about what you are going to tell them and their possible reactions. Divorce is especially hard on children since they often do not understand what is happening and may have strong emotions about it. They are also highly attuned to the emotional undercurrents in your household. Even if you think you have hidden your marital problems from the kids, it is likely they know about them. Because of this, it is important to discuss an impending divorce with your children, to explain what is happening and to let them know they can talk to you about their feelings. You also want to make sure that your children hear about the divorce from you, and not from friends or relatives who may inadvertently make a comment within range of little ears.

In an ideal scenario, both parents will sit down and talk to the children together. This helps eliminate blame and makes it clear to the children that their parents are united, if not in marriage, in their message. If it is not possible for the parents to tell the children together, they should discuss what they are going to say, so that they can present a consistent explanation. Remember that your number one goal for this discussion is to do what is best for your kids; remind yourself of that and put aside feelings of anger or frustration you may feel toward your spouse.

The clearest way to tell children about a divorce is to tell them "mommy and daddy have decided not to live together or be married anymore." It is important to reassure the children that while there will be changes in the family unit, one thing that will not change is your love for them and that you will both still be their parents and actively involved in raising them. You should also mention that this has to do with the relationship between mommy and daddy and was not caused by anything the children did or did not do.

Another thing you might want to bring up in the divorce discussion with your children is that you do not plan to get back together. Often, children will immediately start to wonder what can be done to get their parents back together. If reconciliation is not a possibility (and if you're telling the kids you are getting divorced, you should have ruled that out by now), it is important to make this clear to your children so they can work through the inevitable emotions.

Finally, your children may express themselves in many different ways when they hear the news; they may be actively sad or angry, or silent and sullen. Either way, allow your children the time to adapt to the news and encourage them to express their thoughts and emotions. You will all adjust and in the meantime, remember you can share your venomous thoughts about your ex. Just stick to ranting to your your best friend or your journal, and not your kids.