How to Tell Your Kids You’re Getting a Divorce

Telling your kids your marriage is over is one of the most difficult things you’ll have to do during the divorce process. How you do it depends on their chronological and emotional ages. While there are guidelines based on age, you know your children best.

Below are some suggestions on how to have the difficult conversation. Know that you can provide more or less detail depending on how they respond and the questions they ask.

Set Aside the Time

Don’t have a conversation of this magnitude in a small window of time. You don’t want the children to feel rushed. They’ll need time to think, especially if this is a shock to them. Set aside time where they have your undivided attention and you can monitor their body language. Smaller children aren’t able to articulate their emotions. Watching their physical reaction is a good way to understand what they need from you.

Take into Account Their Lives

Dropping this information on them before a big test, or after your older child’s break up with a girlfriend/boyfriend is ill-advised. But don’t use your children’s lives as an excuse to put it off either.

If your spouse has moved out, it’s probably better to have the conversation than lie about a business trip that he/she never comes back from. It may protect your child in the short term, but will breed distrust when you inevitably tell the truth.

Don’t make them feel like you waited months to tell them. Children frequently know it’s coming.

Do it Together if You Can Hold it Together

If the two of you can be civil to one another (this includes not only words but aggressive or angry body language or eye rolling), you should have this conversation together. Your children must believe you will always be there for them, regardless of where the two of you are living. Children take their cues from their parents. If you put on a united front, children will feel less scared about the future.

If you are unable to practice civility, you both need to have the conversation with them on your own. One of you will be breaking the news but the other will be fielding questions the children didn’t think of during the initial shock.

Do your best not to be overly emotional. Not only does this shake your child’s idea of stability – mom’s scared too – but it paints one spouse as the victim and the other as an insensitive person who’s destroying the family. Even if that is true in your eyes, your children should not feel it.

If You Do Nothing Else…

Your children’s lives are about to become vastly different and there’s nothing they can do about it. Regardless of how or when you have this conversation, do not end the conversation until you are sure the children know two things – that you both love them and that this is not a closed conversation. Tell them they can ask you questions whenever they think of them. Continue to check in with them.

Also, make sure your family has a support system. Encourage your children to speak to someone (a parent, a therapist) about their concerns. Find yourself a support person too (a friend or therapist). Under no condition should that support person be your child.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your divorce, or would like to know more about maintaining family communication during a collaborative divorce, call Dean Tsourakis at 727-785-2700.