How to Tell the Kids, “We’re Getting Divorced”?
STEP 1: If the two of you are NOT already on the same page about how to tell the kids, the first step is buy-in from your partner.
STEP 1: Gain buy-in from your spouse/partner.
Think about when is a good time to approach your spouse about this issue. What is the best way to approach him/her to get their cooperation and input? You may also want to prepare an outline by writing it out and practice or even role-play a script to get buy-in from your spouse. If you need some assistance with this a divorce coach can be a huge help with this. Get your thoughts out of your head, organize them and decide what needs to be presented in this meeting with your spouse.
- Identify fears and barriers
- pre-plan with your co-parent
- understand what the kids need and don’t need to know
- plan for age-appropriate content/information
- Determine timing
- Understand that kids all react differently.
- Monitor for signs of distress
- What’s important after we talk
Once the script has been created and you have it well practiced where you can stay on topic, think about timing and tone. What environment is your spouse most receptive and able to listen/receive in? Set the stage to be heard and to deliver your request/concerns about telling the children and wanting to do it together (if possible).
Present it that this is something you’d like to discuss and listen to what your ex/spouse has to say about it.
STEP 2: Making a gameplan to tell the children.
Whether you tell the kids solo or as a team, think things through and prepare a gameplan.
You can tell the kids together in a variety of ways. If as a team, it’s helpful if at least one of you are prepared and the other is on the same or similar page. 😊 Some examples include, alternating who takes the lead for this piece or that piece; breaking it up in a pattern that works for where the two of you are at mentally and emotionally; having a plan for who is going to say what. It’s not important that it be word for word unless that’s important to you—if it’s not important to your spouse, you can choose to fill in the essential missing gaps (in your opinion) or not. What’s important is the message that you convey to your children and the message isn’t just about words.
If your spouse isn’t willing or ready to tell the kids there are at least a couple options. You can wait some period of time to see if they become more ready—ask what is in the way of them being ready to have this conversation to determine how long it might make sense to wait. If you feel the kids for their own sake(s) need to be told now and it shouldn’t wait, you may decide to move forward.
Preparation includes being prepared:
- Mentally—if a team who should lead the conversation and how does the other person want to participate? You’re supporting each other and your family through this. It’s putting your big pants on and wearing them—taking responsibility for your life and caring for your kids.
- Emotionally- Emotional management is an important element in telling the kids you’re getting a divorce. How you use your words, your actions and your behaviors impact your child’s behavior. Does one of you feel more able to lead the conversation than the other? Determine up front which of you will lead the conversation. If it turns out during the conversation that the other person falls apart and was supposed to lead it, you pick up the pieces and see the conversation through.
- Message—being clear about what it is you want to convey to your children. A rough outline of some things kids need to hear and know are below.
If you previously separated and particularly if it’s been awhile since you’ve separated, it may be accurate to say, “not much is going to change for you guys. Just wanted to let you know we’re going to move forward for a divorce.”
What is the relevant information the children need now as you move forward?
Rosalind Sedacca’s 6 key messages parents need to share with the kids:
- This is NOT your fault.
- You are & always will be safe.
- Mom and dad will always be your parents.
- Mom and dad will always love you.
- This is about change, not about blame.
- Things will work out okay.
Use language that resonates with your children. On some level all kids need o know that they are safe and taken care of. If you have kids, like it or not, you’re always going to be a family. You’ll be connected to your spouse until one of you die or until your kids die (God forbid!!). Each relationship will be unique and it should be given life, air and sunshine to be able to do that.
Remember, this conversation isn’t about you as people or parents—it’s about the kids. No blaming should happen and over explaining can be confusing and polarizing. Generally speaking your children will do best with both of you in their lives—not putting the children in positions where they feel the need to side or choose one of you over the other is a tremendously valuable gift the two of you can give them. And even if one spouse does this, you can choose to not engage in it.
STEP 3: Delivery- Much of what you say to your kids is delivered by tone, love and reassurance. You may not feel like you can, but it’s possible to reset your tone
STEP 4: Follow-through.
You can prepare yourself and your kids for the conversation. It will likely be a relief when it’s over and it may produce intense sadness or grief/loss over your marriage. Don’t let your fears take hold of you—hold onto your best self and what you want forward for yourself and your kids. No one else can navigate your mental or emotional state or your response except you. If you and your spouse can be honest about where you’re at (without wearing the other person out emotionally), great. Plan your game plan. When game day comes, be prepared. Give it your best shot. Exercise radical forgiveness and care in all the ways you can (esp. afterwards) first to yourself.
It’s helpful if at least one parent is prepared.
Make sure the timing isn’t impactful on the child where they are always going to associate it with it for the rest of their life.
Problems to consider/objections:
Timing is often a barrier.
Afterwards, maybe engage in some type of family activity. A walk, a board game, a swim. The divorce is still happening but by playing a board game as a family together (or whatever activity you choose), you are sending a clear message that you will still be a family—the kids will still have both of you and you are on the same page. This is to demonstrate your willingness, as parents, to truly uphold what we say that we really are a family. Not to minimize what is happening but to reenforce a family truth for where you’re going to stand.
Is this a conversation the two of you want to have in your family home or some other location such as a therapist’s office?
WHO SHOULD BE THERE?
All immediate family members (mom, dad and kids) should be there for the conversation. Is there someone else that should also be involved or that it would be helpful if they were a part of the conversation? Maybe a neutral facilitator, a Sunday school teacher, a therapist, a mentor in the child’s life can be called in to be present and support? If you involve someone else you should trust them and explain what is going to happen so they can best support the child(ren).
Acknowledge any questions the kids have now or later. Kids don’t always have questions right away—especially ones they can verbalize.
If you’ve agreed to this with your spouse, one of you may say, “We are happy to walk with you together or individually.” To do this, this needs to be part of the agreement with you Ex/spouse. If this is an agreement between you, it will be upheld for the children, not for one another.
Emotional Management/Considerations for age/maturity:
Most children, whatever their age want their parents to get back together after a separation or divorce. In cases where the conflict has been hard on the kids, they may or may not wish to have the two of you unite, make up and be a family again.
What does being a family look like?
This is a big question, right? And you may not fully know the answer right now. You may have best intentions of spending Christmas’s together and that may or may not work out. Find out what you are committed to. What do you want to commit to?
Are you committed to still being a family together? Will you still be committed to this after you recouple? After your spouse recouples?
Sometimes the commitment isn’t to being a family as much as it is a commitment to parent your children well and ensure their well-being by being there for them through the moments, seasons and tests ahead.
Follow-Through and After the Conversation
Follow-through is essential and no parent will probably do it perfectly. If you fall off the horse, forgive yourself, ask for forgiveness and get back on. All the days of going through your divorce and all your life after with your kids and ex-to-be are opportunities for you to show up. There are always ways to show up even when they become limited by bad behavior or incredibly difficult situations that seem impossible. Being committed and steady to the positive commitments you make will make a difference whether you see the results or not. You changing your behavior shifts the dynamic of what’s going on. You cannot control the other person—even if you feel they’re now out of control or you felt you controlled them somehow before—but you have the power to work on controlling you and your reactions and behaviors. A therapist can help you heal the past and the right coach can help you work toward your goals of becoming the person and parent you want to be now and into the future.
Keep showing up even when/if your children behave badly. Children will test to see if you are committed to them and to doing what you say. They may also be going through a rough time not having the resources they need to process what’s going on effectively.
Assure your children (through words and actions) that kids aren’t responsible for other’s well-being. Kid’s aren’t protectors; parents are.
As parents you still need to be the parents. It’s not about pleasing the child; it’s about caring for your child’s emotional, mental, physical and other needs. Your child doesn’t get to choose when or if they go to the other parent’s home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t listen or empathize with them when it is appropriate to do so. Being clear that the two of you are the parents can provide safety to your child.
Really listen. Listening is more important than responding. All feelings are okay. Anger, frustration, sadness and all the rest. Some children may need help using their words.
Be patient. Divorce is a life event. Make yourself available to your child. Make arrangements if they need someone else to talk to. Help them to navigate conversations with teachers, guidance counsellors, coaches and anyone else in their lives who can be supportive. Lots of schools offer programs.
Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t jerk your kids around while the adults (you and your spouse) are trying to figure things out. When a firm decision has been made, this is often the best time to tell children. It could be that one of you made that decision (a decision to divorce and no longer work on the marriage). Even when divorce isn’t mutually agreed, it may be wise and you may wish to participate in telling the children together
Don’t explain why you’re getting a divorce.
Divorce often upsets every apple cart of life. But perhaps no one’s apple cart hold the potential of being overturned more severely than your children’s. How your children are told you’re getting a divorce is important. Perhaps what you do afterwards in the days, weeks, months and years is even more important.