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Telling the kids you are getting a divorce?

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

Telling the kids, you are going to get a divorce needs careful planning. It’s not something they should hear amidst a fight between their parents calling it quits nor should it be kept secret because you haven’t got all the detail sorted out on whether you’ll have to sell the family home. You don’t want them to somehow find out from a third party because your best friend’s kids overheard their mum talking to you on the phone about it and subsequently, they tell your kids…. yikes!

We try to protect the kids from revealing the marital demise as we hope we may be able to overcome it, just a glitch, we have to get through.

We may not feel ready to accept the relationship is over ourselves so why would we want to tell the kids yet?

If one parent is adamant there is no chance of reconciliation, they want out, then it is a case of trying to stay amicable to help the kids through this huge adjustment and major change to their lives.

You may be worried about the kids reaction, will they be devastated? Did they see it coming due to the arguments and silent treatment they have witnessed for months? They may have thought something isn’t right and tiptoed around like being in a minefield or escaped to their room when the next explosive argument happened wishing the arguments would end. There are some children who may have got used to mum & dad’s disdain for each other and think that was just how mum & dad are, so are completely in shock when they hear the news of a pending separation. Others may feel relief if the conflict occurred frequently.

It is important to plan the big ‘D’ conversation to avoid it escalating into a huge argument or having distractions cutting off the conversation halfway through resulting in chaos.

Firstly, you need to plan where the discussion will take place. It needs to be somewhere where it is quiet, private and without distractions to enable the children to ask questions and gain reassurance. It is important to ensure the TV & mobile phones are off to avoid disruption.

Secondly, plan when the discussion will take place avoiding times when the kids might be hungry or tired. It is important to choose a time where they won’t be about to go to school, a social event or bedtime. Planning to have the discussion at the end of a school week, on a Friday afternoon or weekend morning will enable them to be at home to digest the news before having to be around other people. If your child has major events coming up such as exams, sporting finals, a holiday away it may be too disruptive and warrant a time that will not impact those events. If they have just come home excited to tell you about a really fun time they have had, that may not be the best time either. They will always remember the day, where they were, and when they got the news that their parents were splitting up…...forever.

Thirdly how will the discussion take place. It is best for both parents to be present to have this important family conversation. Sit down on the child’s level giving them your full attention and make eye contact. Outline that mum and dad can no longer live together but you will still be a family, just living in two separate homes. Reiterate that both parents love them and they will be able to still spend time with each parent. Ensure the children are advised that the separation is not because of them but because mum and dad can no longer be happy living together. Then enable the children to take in the information they are hearing and ask questions. Try to think through what might be the reactions of each child so you can plan how you might support them. A child may flee the room crying and not want to talk about it anymore, another might get angry and shout as they realise the impact it may have on them or they may withdraw and sit quietly. Either way advise them that you are there for them to help the whole family get through this together.

Provide comfort to your child, giving them a hug, asking if they have any questions, advise you will help them through this and are there for them.

If they ask questions about where they will live, will they go to the same school, will they still see their friends or where will the dog live, provide them with what you as parents have agreed on so far. For things that have not been agreed, advise you are both still working through the detail to ensure what is best for the children.

Prior to the day that you have chosen to tell the kids, make sure both parents do some self-care to be relaxed, emotionally ready and calm to have the conversation. It is a very sad discussion to have so it is important to be mindful that the children will follow your lead. If you are angry about what is happening and start blaming the one parent who is leaving in front of the children, the kids will become very stressed and anxious. If you are sobbing uncontrollably, they will feel insecure and distressed. The kids need to see their parents as problem solvers, with respectful communication, working together on a solution to help the family get through this major challenge.

Author - Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Mediator & Author

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