Parents often ask our office how to explain divorce to their children. This is a very delicate topic with many different opinions. We believe that every situation is different and requires a different approach. However, you decide to handle this, one thing remains clear – you should never talk badly about the other parent to your children and you should never let your children hear you and your spouse talking about the divorce. Here are some of our suggestions:
Age of the Children – The conversations you have with a 4-year-old vs a 16-year-old are very different. The four-year-old is going to have very different concerns (like where their toys are going to go) whereas a 16 year old will have questions about having to change schools or not being able to participate in the same activities. One goal that every couple should have is to try to give your children as much consistency as possible as you transition into your new situation. I also believe it is helpful to give real answers to what is changing. Once you and the parent have agreed on what the new situation is going to be, explain it to your children together. Tell them – dad is going to pick you up from school on Wednesdays now and he’s going to take you to dinner and help you with your homework and them bring you home to go to bed if that’s the situation. Or tell them that mom and dad are going to share the weekends with you and here is how we think this is going to work – Mom is going to bring you to dad’s house on Friday nights and he’s going to be home with you all weekend until you come back to mom’s house on Sunday night. Explain who is going to take them to soccer practice or pick them up from the bus stop. You can greatly reduce their “fear of the unknown” by explaining to them what their new schedule is going to be.
Discussing Together – If the parents are at least on friendly working terms, they should sit down together (without the children) and come up with an agreed upon plan for discussing the divorce with the children. Stick to the plan that you come up with and sit down with your kids together and talk about how things will change and how things will stay the same. Even if you haven’t figured out what the parenting or visitation schedule is going to be just yet, you can reassure your children that they are still going to see both of their parents but that the parents are just going to be living in different houses now.
Highlight the Positives – Try to give your kids some things to look forward to and describe how the new changes are going to be positive. Often times a shared parenting time schedule gives parents the ability to give their kids undivided attention because when the children are with the other parent, they can get household chores, work obligations, and other responsibilities done. Maybe it means that one parent is going to live closer to school so there will be a shorter school bus ride or that one parent is now going to be able to pick up from school. Often times, the children don’t have to necessarily move out of the home that they’ve lived in, this can be comforting to them. I even had a couple who painted their child’s bedroom the same color in both houses and used the same bedspread and décor to make the child feel comfortable in both places.
New Relationships – Don’t talk about new relationships or introduce children to a new girlfriend or boyfriend. While you and your spouse have had time to process the ending of the relationship and time to even start dating again, your children likely have not. Give them plenty of time to adjust to their new living situation before introducing a new significant other regardless of how long you have been dating.
Your children will have questions about the new changes. Try to work with the other parent to address these questions together. Your children need to know that everyone is on the same page and that many things in their lives are going to remain exactly the same. In the end, it’s most important to only speak kindly of the other parent and to provide comfort to your children as they transition into their new living situations.