How to tell children about Divorce?
Loss and separation, leaving, and disruption, all spin nightmares into the very being of children. How does a parent disclose this life trauma to a child? A style of disclosure clearly depends on the age of a child. How one discloses to a seven-year-old, is much different than disclosing to a seventeen-year-old. For this article we will primarily focus on disclosing to adolescents and upward in the age range. If there have been family meetings as part of the norm then a family get together would not be too unusual. If meetings are not part of the norm then accept the fact that their internal red flags are going to be up and flying. Remember we all have a flight or fight mechanism inside us. Children will show a variety of emotions and all are typical with the disclosure of such magnitude.
I am an advocate of everyone getting together and being honest and truthful about the marital conflict, and the decision to leave. Children are usually very observant and wise. Yes, they will be hurt and upset however all too often it does not come as a huge surprise. When parents are honest, you are role modeling integrity, try to at least have that in lieu of possible infidelity, or other dishonest behavior. When one parent trumps the other by getting to the child first this is most likely evident of selfish behavior and their own need to try and present themselves as the”good parent.” Inevitably this backfires over time.
Allow children to express, consider their feelings to a fault. Do not make this about you. Do not criticize your spouse or try to achieve emotional sides with your children. They will eventually be wise to this ugly manipulation, and it will backfire. Be prepared for emotional distance from them. Children will learn quickly who is more mature, who has more common sense and who is vindictive. They will inherently distance over time, and that parent will regret a chance to mend or have a wonderful relationship with their child.
Please be very clear that each of you will be there for them for emotional support, financial support, school support and medical concerns. Whoever is leaving the home write letters or emails, to let them know you are thinking of them, they may not be ready for a phone call. Give them time.
Explain to them using analogies of their peers. How sometimes there are conflicts between two individuals that cannot be resolved. It is important to let them know there was an attempt at resolution. Not only are you disclosing a loss to them, however you are teaching them a life lesson. Do not minimize the impact, yet reassure that all life traumas get better with time and BOTH of you will be there for their needs.
Be aware of your own selfish needs and your own feelings of guilt. Do not let that spill onto the kids. The children come first. Make that a reality. When you feel guilty this often spills out as enveloping and becoming smothering. Parents frequently deny this behavior, however it can be so blatant that even peers notice it. To coddle your child, excuse behavior because of fear that they will go to the ex-spouses home is clearly wrong. One still needs to parent, discipline and love them.
Disclosing divorce to children is painful, has long lasting effects, and usually has some type of fallout down the road. On the brighter side, children are resilient, and bounce back from life traumas, their relationship can actually flourish with a parent in a more positive way. It does take work, dedication and showing up. Yes, show up for them with all their activities, and life events. Show your children that despite the divorce you will be there for them. Talk is cheap, now show it in behavior. You will not regret it.