You and your spouse may be reluctant to tell your children about your impending divorce. Your feelings are understandable given the difficulty of the conversation. However, it is something you should address as soon as possible.
The longer you procrastinate telling your children that you are divorcing, the more likely it is that they could hear about it from a third-party source. This can complicate what is already often a traumatic occurrence for children and undermine the messaging that you want to communicate to them. It can be difficult to know how to approach the situation, so here are some suggestions to inform your approach.
1. Plan ahead of time
Before you and your spouse have the divorce conversation with your children, you should sit down together beforehand and plan what you are going to say. Determine ahead of time the messages that are most important for your children to hear. There may be some variance based on your family situation, but child psychology researchers recommend stressing the following points:
- Your family is going to experience changes
- Regardless of the changes, you and your spouse love the children unconditionally
- What is happening is not your children’s fault
The conversation can be difficult enough without going in cold and trying to improvise.
2. Involve the whole family in the conversation
When explaining the situation, you and your spouse should present a united front. Avoid blaming or recriminations against one another and incorporate the word “we” as much as you can. It is helpful to your children if you present the divorce as a mutual decision even if it is not.
If possible, it is usually advisable to address the entire family all at once. However, it depends on your situation. You know your children better than anyone else. If you believe that one of them may have a violently negative reaction that may upset the others, it may be better, in the long run, to have individual conversations even if it is more difficult in the short term.
3. Invite questions
While you do what you can to anticipate what your children are feeling, they may have concerns that you do not expect. Encouraging them to ask questions provides them with a sense of agency in a situation over which they have no control and helps you to address their concerns more comprehensively.
On the other hand, prepare yourself for the possibility that the children may not have questions right away. It may take some time for them to process what they are feeling. Continue to ask follow-up questions about their thoughts and feelings throughout the divorce process.