Divorce is never an easy subject to broach with children. Depending on the ages of your children, they may not fully understand what is happening until the living situation changes. It’s essential for divorcing parents to take time to talk about an impending divorce with their children and answer their questions. Taking the time to prepare your kids for a divorce can greatly decrease the chances of common coping behaviors like acting out, declining school performance, or destructive behaviors.
Every divorce is different. Perhaps you and your spouse simply no longer believe there is a reason to stay married, or your relationship strained to a breaking point and neither of you is willing to try and fix it. Regardless of whether any bad blood plays a role in your divorce, it is crucial for both parents to remain neutral in regard to their feelings about each other. This means you should never speak poorly about your ex in front of your children or attempt to manipulate your children’s relationships with your ex-spouse. Doing so will never work out positively for anyone involved and may actually lead to rifts between you and your children once they discover your interference.
If there are legitimate issues with your ex, such as addiction or criminal activity, you should be honest in your answers but refrain from giving your personal opinions. Older children will be able to make sense of these issues in their own way, but you should make it clear to your kids that they can come to you with their questions.
Be Open to Questions
Children, especially younger children, will have many questions about divorce. They will want to know why their parents are splitting up, whether they will need to move, when they will see their other parent, and may have seemingly endless questions and concerns. Remember, while you may know the intimate details about your divorce, your children do not, and they may not have any context to make sense of the situation. On the other hand, if your children have seen you and your spouse fighting constantly for a long time, they may actually feel relieved that you’re settling your differences so everyone can move on more happily.
Regardless of your personal feelings about your ex and the divorce, don’t neglect your children’s questions or allow them to frustrate you. Your children simply want to make sense of a situation that to them may feel like the end of the world. The more encouragement and support you can offer your kids through this time, the better things will work out for everyone involved.
Expect Some Pushback
Your kids may scream, cry, become angry, or start acting out once they learn about the impending divorce. Taking time to prepare for this conversation and being open to your children’s questions is the best way to smooth over these responses. It is common for younger children to display regressive behaviors like thumb sucking and bedwetting. Older children and teens may start acting out in school to vent their frustration or may get into trouble outside of school.
It’s best to approach these situations compassionately. Instead of punishing a child for wetting the bed after years of clean sheets, talk to him or her about what happened and see if your child is expressing his or her confusion about the divorce in other ways.
A family counselor can act as a great mediator and help facilitate discussions between you, your ex, and your children. If you’re having trouble explaining your divorce to your kids, a counselor may be able to offer guidance and tips for addressing the subject or may even suggest a family session to talk on neutral ground. Individual counseling may be beneficial if your children suffered any abuse from your ex or if they struggle with learning difficulties or other special needs.