One of the most challenging conversations parents ever face is telling their children that they are getting a divorce. No one wants to cause pain for their kids, but it’s vital that they hear the news from you first.
Kids typically respond differently to the news, depending upon their age. Young children will likely be confused, grade-schoolers may blame themselves for the breakup, and high schoolers may blame one or both parents. So, parents must carefully weigh their words.
Five tips to minimize the harm of divorce
First and foremost, parents should present a united front when discussing divorce with their kids. Choose an appropriate time when the family is together, such as a weekend. Other advice includes:
- Telling them together: Getting the news from both parents is vital, so it doesn’t end up being a “he said, she said” situation. What you tell them largely depends upon their age.
- Not blaming the other parent: Reject the urge to assign fault, even if merited. The truth is less important than not putting children in the middle of a marital dispute, forcing them to take sides.
- Carefully crafting the “why”: While you may not want to share specific details with your kids, they will want to know why the divorce is happening. Offer a general reason without blaming the other, such as the marriage no longer works, or wanting different things. Stress that despite these differences, your love for them remains your priority.
- Explaining what happens next: Children will want to know how divorce will affect their lives. Where will they live, and with whom? Be honest about what you know and don’t know. If you have settled on a parenting plan, tell them what to expect.
- Detailing the future parenting schedule: Unless you have decided on a nesting relationship where both parents remain or take turns staying with their kids in the family home, explain which parent is moving out and where they’ll live. Emphasize that they’ll continue to have loving relationships with both of you.
Reassurance and honesty are key factors
Even if your children have two households after divorce, let them know that you are still one family. Working with an experienced and compassionate family law attorney can help craft a parenting plan that details how they’ll spend holidays, birthdays, vacations and school breaks.
The plan should also outline how you’ll make essential decisions over health care, education, religion and other issues. Being prepared is vital to children’s short-term and long-term well-being.