Whether your divorce is amicable or contentious, when and how to tell your children can be a difficult issue. Your children may already know that there are difficulties in your home life and marriage, but you may be surprised at the level of their sophistication and knowledge about divorce. Even if they are relieved to hear that a difficult home life is about to change, do not ever underestimate the degree to which your divorce can impact your children. The adults are not alone in feeling the stress and hurt of a strained family situation. You must take special steps to insulate your children and help them through the divorce process.
There is not one simple outline that provides all of the right answers and information on how to guide your children through the divorce process. When and how to tell your children about the divorce will depend upon your individual family dynamics, the maturity of your children, the ages of your children, the conflict level in your house, and your own individual preferences. If you are unsure of how to present this issue, it is a good idea to obtain professional help to do so. Many counselors are well versed in addressing divorce issues with children and they are available to guide you through this process with your children.
The type of divorce situation presenting itself in your family will have some impact on how and when you present this issue to your children. If you and your spouse are amicable, and your divorce is low stress, your children may not even be aware of the possibility of a break up. While that means that the divorce conflict has not impacted upon the children as of yet, it does not mean that it will not. Your children might be even more affected by the news that you are divorcing if they were unaware that there were problems in your marriage. If you or your spouse has been working with a counselor, either together or separately, that counselor can lay out some simple strategies on how to tell the children. Basic information that you want to discuss with the counselor is whether you tell the children together or separately and what information you can or should give the children about what their living arrangements will be in the future.
It is never acceptable to disclose that you and your spouse are getting a divorce when you are in the middle of a conflict. To place blame on your spouse, or to provide information in a way that conveys blame or fault may make you feel better in the short run. In the long run it will hurt your children, and it will impact your long term relationship with the children’s other parent. Also, courts frown on providing children with adult level information and details about your divorce. Do so and you risk hurting your legal case, if your divorce will be presented to a judge.
Most counselors will support a joint parental communication to the children about the pending divorce. However, a joint discussion about divorce with the children does require that you and your spouse be able to maintain a basic level of civility, if for no other reason than to maintain your children’s peace of mind. If you and your spouse cannot be civil, do not attempt to discuss this issue together with the children.
If your marriage has been rife with conflict, your children may be aware of or even welcoming the relief of a parental separation and/or divorce. Do not be surprised if you find out that your children know more than you thought, even if you have been attempting to conceal the conflict from them.
The issues that your children want to be reassured about involve where they will live, where they will go to school, whether their activities and daily lives will be disrupted, and the degree to which they will be able to maintain their relationship with each parent. Teenagers can be particularly vulnerable and sensitive to disruption in their lives and schedules. If you are able to work out a parenting schedule with your spouse, it is acceptable to share that with the children to reassure them. It also can be acceptable to involve the children in the process of setting a schedule. However, that issue can be very delicate. You do not want children dictating to the adults and you do not want the children to have limited contact with either parent.
Above all else, do not discuss marital fault issues or the reason for the divorce with your children. Even if you think that your spouse is the worse miscreant on the planet, that spouse is your children’s parent. Your children want to and are entitled to love both parents. That a spouse cannot make a marriage work does not dispossess them of the right to be a parent. More important, it does not dispossess the children of the right to love that parent and have a relationship with the parent.
Consider that you may have a range of reactions from your children about the pending divorce. They may not be surprised. Or, they could be upset and shocked. In many cases, even when they are not surprised, the children might be angry or blame themselves. Work with a professional to address all of these emotional reactions. Your children will adjust to your divorce, if you provide the proper guidance and assistance during that process.