Divorcing one’s spouse is one of the most stressful experiences an adult can endure. The difficult emotions, anger, and sadness are overwhelming. Kids also experience challenging emotions during this tough time, and can become very confused and anxious when they know their parents are going to separate or divorce. Talking them through the transition can help them to know what to expect, and manage their feelings.
- Use straightforward, honest language. Don’t beat around the bush. Tell your kids plainly what is going on, but in an age appropriate way. You may want to practice this conversation before you have it with your kids. You can tell them something very simple, such as, “Mommy and Daddy are having a hard time getting along, and we know that it makes everyone unhappy when Mommy and Daddy are unhappy with each other. We are going to live in separate houses from now on, because we think everyone will be a lot happier.”
- Kids need concrete expectations. Don’t leave your kids in the dark. Let them know exactly what you’ve determined in terms of a schedule. If you’ll be switching off weekends, or if Daddy will get one or two days per week, make a calendar that will map out each and every day, so that your kids know what to expect. This will help them understand what their weeks will look like, and it will reassure them that they will get to see both of you regularly.
- This one is hard for adults to understand but it’s important to let kids know that it’s not their fault. Kids tend to think of themselves as the center of most of the activity around them, so when you divorce, your kids may think they’ve done something to make this divorce happen. Let them know that they did not cause the divorce, and ask them to talk to you whenever they have doubts about that.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Your kids are likely to feel sad, angry, and very confused during this time. Let them know that they can talk to you any time about how they are feeling. Let them know that their feelings are very natural. Don’t try to talk them out of their feelings right now. Just help them to figure out ways of coping with negative emotions.
- Do not tear down your partner in front of your kids. Both of you are incredibly important to your kids, and your children will only suffer as a result of hearing one or both of their parents disparaged by the other parent. Try to appear as a united front, because you are both co-parents, even if your are no longer spouses.
Once you have that initial conversation with kids, keep having conversations, even if it’s just a simple check-in. Making sure that you are taking a pulse of your kids’ feelings, and offering up your presence when they need it will help them navigate what they’re experiencing during this difficult transition.