Breaking it to the Kids Makes Your Divorce Official
Probably one of the most gut-wrenching parts of getting a divorce is breaking the news to your children. Even if they’ve had an inkling that things weren’t going well in your marriage, making that official statement will rock their worlds and be forever cemented in their memories.
But this is also where you can start your divorce off on the right foot.
This is where you can show your kids that they are still loved. That they can still love both parents equally. That it’s going to be okay.
Advice from Collaborative Divorce Professionals of West Michigan
To help you navigate this very sensitive conversation, Collaborative Divorce Professionals of West Michigan has brought us some thoughtful suggestions.
Collaborative Divorce Professionals of West Michigan are dedicated to protecting children as much as possible in a divorce. They have a team of professionals across West Michigan that specializes in making divorce peaceful. And they’ve got some great ideas for how to guide your family through this transition.
Who, What, When and Where to Tell the Kids
WHAT do you tell them?
“Keep it simple,” recommends Margaret Allen, an attorney who represents children in neglect and delinquency cases, as well as difficult divorces. “They need to be reassured that it is not their fault, that they are loved and they will be cared for.”
Something simple like “Mom and Dad cannot live together anymore because they have differences” helps keep the conversation neutral.
“If parents can explain that the kids will have two homes and even where the homes will be that helps kids to not worry,” she continues.
Be as honest as possible without telling them specifics. Julie Haveman, LPC, advises against bringing up affairs or money issues.
“The wonderful thing about the collaborative process is that the parties will talk about the who, what, when, and where of telling their children about the divorce when they cooperatively write their ‘divorce story’,” says Julie.
“This is accomplished during a meeting between the parents and the neutral mental health professional. Once written, the story is shared with the other participants in the process.”
WHO Should be Present?
If possible, both parents should tell all of the children at the same time.
If they are close in age and developmental stages, all at once is best.
“This is so important,” stresses Margaret. “It lets the kids know that mom and dad are on the same page, that there is no bad guy. Parents telling kids separately will lead to the kids asking questions and getting different answers. It usually goes down a bad road.”
Though Margaret concedes that there can be exceptions to this rule. “If kids are much different ages or there is a special needs child, I can see telling them separately,” she adds.
“You may not want to address the divorce issue at the same time to a 6 year old and a 17 year old because of their cognitive differences,” explains Julie.
She advises that you still tell each child as close to the same time as possible. You don’t want one child bearing the burden of having to keep this big secret while they wait for their other siblings to be told.
The professionals at Collaborative Divorce can help parents make the best decision about who should be present when children are told and help you consider factors such as: age, maturity, gender, social involvement, and parental attachment.
WHEN Should You Tell Them?
If it is something that can be planned, it should occur at a time when the children are going to be home for 24-48 hours so that they can process and ask questions.
Margaret advises against telling a child near the time of a special event like a birthday or holiday.
As far as when in the process should you break the news, it depends on what the kids know. Waiting until you have a plan is ideal, so if your kids have no idea that you’ve had marriage struggles, hammer out some details before approaching them.
But if a child is aware that things are changing, Margaret encourages you to tell them sooner. They may be worrying, and “often their fears may be worse than the reality,” she says.
WHERE Do You Tell Them?
The best place to tell kids that their lives are about to drastically change is at home. A neutral area of the house such as the kitchen or living room works best. Make sure they have a place at home that they can go to be alone afterward if that’s what they need.
There is no easy way to get a divorce, but there are ways to make it better for your family. If you are looking for a gentler divorce, contact Collaborative Divorce Professionals at gentlerdivorce.com.