Telling your kids that you’re getting a divorce is one of the most significant conversations you’ll ever have, so it makes sense to do the best you can. Even if you haven’t been on the same page with your spouse for ages, it’s a necessity in this situation for you to to be in alignment as partners. When the two of you are preparing to tell the kids, make some time to talk to each other about what you’re going to say, when you’re going to say it, and how it’s going to sound.
Here are some strategic points for you to consider — first the DON’Ts (which, hopefully, are obvious):
- DON’T tell them while you’re packing boxes and suitcases.
- DON’T say “this is all your mother’s (or father’s) idea.”
- DON’T tell them separately, privately, or in front of their friends.
- DON’T lie.
- DON’T disappear after you’ve blurted out the news.
Now, here are some DOs (which might not be as obvious):
- TELL THEM TOGETHER. Use the pronoun “we” as much as possible so that they understand it’s a joint decision (even if it isn’t).
- MAKE SURE YOU’RE SURE. You don’t want to put unnecessary stress on your children if the two of you are in the contemplation phase.
- TELL THE TRUTH, BUT MAYBE NOT THE WHOLE TRUTH. Make simple, honest statements without sugar-coating, and most importantly, without blaming.
- BE PREPARED TO ANSWER THEIR QUESTIONS. And it’s okay to say you don’t know yet, but that you’ll keep them informed.
- REMEMBER THAT KIDS ARE RESILIENT. They’re going to be fine.
Here are some questions which they might ask (so be prepared):
- Where will I live?
- Why are you getting a divorce?
- Does Grandma/Grandpa know?
- Am I going to have my own room at your house?
- Can I get a puppy? Or a car?
And finally, understand that they may react in a number of different ways, depending upon their ages, frames of references, and circumstances. Reactions might include disbelief, anger, or maybe even relief. And, they might have no reaction at all, at least not immediately. Kids are people, and we all process information at different speeds. Keeping that in mind, it’s probably a good idea to make a mental note to check in with them the next day to understand more about what they’re thinking and feeling.
I have a friend whose parents told him on the day he graduated that they were getting a divorce. For years afterwards, he felt guilty that his parents stayed together and miserable just so that he could finish high school. Please don’t do that to your kids. They know more than you think, and no matter what, your divorce is not their fault.