Once you have decided to get a divorce, there will be many issues you and your partner will need to discuss when it comes to the children(read my blog Separating Parents: Planning Arrangements For The Children for a list of the main issues you will need to consider). The first very important step is to work out how you are going to tell the children Mum and Dad are getting a divorce.
Telling the children about the divorce is upsetting for everyone and often riddled with feelings of guilt. It is important to take the time to prepare how and when you are going to talk to them. Research tells us that it is the parents’ approach to the divorce and not the divorce itself that has the biggest impact on the children’s ability to cope. Take a step back and look at the big picture. Set a good example to your children by taking care with how you deal with the divorce.
Set out below are my tips on how best to approach this very important discussion. Always bear in mind that the children are likely to remember this conversation for the rest of their lives, so take time to approach it in the right way for them. Remember to put their needs first(however much I am sure you are hurting yourself).
1. Plan when and how you will tell them
Emotions may be very raw between you and your partner at the moment but it’s important to put your personal feelings here. When you have children, divorce does not end the relationship with your spouse. You will continue to be parents to your children and will need to find a way to work together for their sake. For more information read my blog You Will Always Be A Family…To Your Children. Discuss with your spouse how and when you are going to talk to the children about the separation and be quite specific about what is going to be said.
2. Make sure you are on the same page
Agree in advance with your spouse exactly what the children will be told AND what detail they won’t be told. Only give them facts and information about the separation that they really need to know. It will be a lot for them to take in and could come as a shock. There will be opportunity for more discussions at a later date. It is also important to talk to the children in a manner appropriate for their particular age. If you have children of different ages, it is best to use language appropriate for the youngest child(you can be assured that the older children will understand what you are saying).
3. Be a united force
If possible it is better for you and your spouse to talk to the children together. Reassure the children that this is a joint decision made by Mum and Dad(even if it wasn’t). This can be very challenging for the person who didn’t want the divorce to take place but it is in the best interests of the children for Mum and Dad not to be in conflict about the decision to divorce. It is important for you to approach the conversation (and decision) as a united force. This provides reassurance for the children that this is an adult decision. Despite your relationship with your spouse changing, you will continue to have a working relationship as parents. The interests of the children need to come first over any animosity you hold for your husband/wife. You will need to agree with and “back up” what your spouse says to them. Either parent can take responsibility for doing most of the talking, whilst the other parent is present or you can share the responsibility for what the children are told. The children may ask the parent not speaking as much to confirm their agreement to what the other parent has just said.
4. Do not assign blame
Do not place blame for the separation on either parent. This will be unsettling for the children. They will feel uncomfortable that someone they love is being criticised. It is important that they do not feel their loyalties torn between their parents. This could have a very negative impact on their ability to cope with the divorce and their future relationship with either parent. The children should be encouraged to continue to love both parents.
5. Reassure them
It is important to provide reassurance to the children throughout the conversation that this is a “grown-up” decision and is not their fault. During the conversation, concentrate on the ways in which their lives will remain the same- e.g. friends, school, football training etc. Tell the children that this decision is about change not blame and change is not something to be frightened of. Reassure them that Mum and Dad are going to work together to make sure everything will be okay.
6. Encourage questions
Encourage the children to ask questions. They may not have many at first as they might need time to process their thoughts and feelings about the news. It is a good idea to tell the children that they can come to either one of you with any questions or concerns at any time. As a parent you are likely to want to always have the answer to any of your child’s questions. Be careful with that in this situation. Giving yourself time to think about how you wish to answer important questions is a good idea. Don’t feel rushed to answer straight away if you feel you need to think it through and/or speak to your partner to make a joint decision about how to answer the particular question. Your children will rely on what you tell them. Try not to guess the answers to their questions as you might realise at a later date that your answer wasn’t correct. If you don’t know the answer, reassure them as much as possible that you will tell them as soon as you know.
7. Tell them how much you love them
It goes without saying that as a good parent you will do your best to reassure your children you love them. This is important now more than ever, whatever the age of the children. Tell them how much you both really love them and how this will NEVER change. Just because Mum and Dad are no longer living together it does not affect how you both feel about them. Mum and Dad will always love you. Make sure you spend quality time with the children and encourage them to open up about how they feel about the changes taking place in their life. Let them know that their feelings matter and that you want to support them as much as possible.
8. Look at the big picture
Throughout the divorce(and beyond), keep asking yourself the following questions: “What are my children going to say to me when they are adults, about this divorce? Also, If we were not getting divorced, would I still make this parenting decision?” It will help you to make better decisions. Always have as your focus as what is in the best interests of the children. Whilst your feelings towards your partner may be very strained at the moment, hopefully as time moves on, you will be able to find a way forward to create a successful co-parenting relationship for the benefit of the children. You remain parents to your children and that relationship will never change.
9. Be kind to yourself
- Children are very forgiving
- Parents are not perfect and make mistakes
- You can make amends with your children
- Its never too late to put the children first
“Without a doubt, the hardest part of my divorce so far has been the idea of telling the children. Rhiannon’s support at this time was completely invaluable. Rhiannon worked very hard to prepare me for important conversations that I had never imagined having and had no idea how to start. You can do endless research on a subject but when something is as important as telling your children you want to divorce, nothing can beat having an expert like Rhiannon to guide, advise and support you.” – SC from Surrey
If you have found the tips in this blog useful then you will find lots more in my ebook “Tips for Coping with Divorce” which you can download here: free ebook.
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