The Big D: Talking to Your Children about Divorce
Several months ago, I learned my friend and her partner were separating. It was a shock. I didn’t it see coming. She told me they had been in counseling for years trying to work things out, but in the end, they couldn’t. It’s sad and, at the same time, a relief for them both. They are able to move forward again.
My friend and her partner are amazing parents. Both are working hard to show the kids that they are still a family, just one that lives in separate homes. I’m sure it helps that it’s an amicable split.
My kids are good friend with their kids, which, has Dave and I wondering how to talk to our kids about the separation or if we even should? It ain’t an easy chat to have. It ranks right up there with this one. Here are some thoughts…
Should you even mention it?
-By talking about it, you can help take some of the pressure off your child’s friend. Most adults have a difficult time talking about divorce, so imagine the pressure for a kid. It can be too much to try to pretend that things are okay. Divorce doesn’t have to be a shameful secret. By taking the pressure off, your child’s friend can be open with him, when he’s ready.
-It’s a teachable moment to help your child develop empathy skills. By encouraging them to be kind, they can help their friend avoid embarrassment and shame.
-It allows you and your spouse/partner to check in with your own children about their fears of divorce.
What should you say?
-Speak simply and in a neutral tone. Say, “Johnny’s parents are going to live in separate homes now. As far as I know, Johnny will continue to live where he does now and you can still play together whenever you want.” Kids ultimately want to know how this will affect them. If you appear stressed or anxious, they will feel stressed and anxious.
-Reinforce that both parents love their child.
-Tell them divorce is never a child’s fault. Ever.
-Explain that their friend may be experiencing many emotions right now. Encourage them to be patient with him/her. Let them know that when their friend is upset, it may have nothing at all to do with your child.
-When the inevitable question arises if you and your spouse/partner will ever get a divorce, reassure them without making grand promises about the future. Instead of “We’ll never ever get divorced,” try, “We have no plans to divorce,” or “We’re still growing together.” I know they’re subtle distinctions, but they help children focus on the present rather than focusing on a future no one can predict.
Have you talked to your kids about divorce? If so, what was your experience? Any tips?