Going through a divorce can be a truly heartbreaking process, but it’s only made more complicated when there are children in the picture. Explaining your upcoming divorce may easily be one of the most painful conversations you’ll ever have with your kids. And while there are some facts you won’t be able to cushion them from, there are a few ways you can make the initial discussion a little easier.
1. Be certain before you say anything.
Don’t let your kids know about the divorce until you’re sure things are final. Ideally, wait until after you’ve signed the divorce papers, the marriage annulment has been finalized, and/or you’ve worked out a custody agreement. This ensures you aren’t spilling the beans when a potential resolution is still on the table.
2. Manage your own emotions.
If you can, try to keep a good handle on your own emotions. Your kids will need your stability during the conversation, as they may be experiencing strong feelings of their own. Having you as a calm and steady foundation may help them manage their own feelings.
3. Plan the discussion in advance.
You don’t exactly need to memorize it, but you should know what high-level points you want to cover and how you want to word them. If you and your ex can still be productive together, coordinate this effort with them. Each person should have a turn to talk, showing you’re on the same page.
4. Have the conversation.
Be sure to present yourselves as a unified front. Only share appropriate information about the divorce, without bad mouthing on either side, as this can create feelings of trauma and resentment. Ideally, you’ll keep the focus on the children themselves. As kids tend to be wrapped up in their own worlds, they’ll feel lost and discomforted until they know concretely how this change will affect them: where will they live? How often will they see each parent? Most importantly, let them know that this situation is between the two of you, and it’s not their fault. Explain using tried-and-true phrases like “We grew apart,” or “We love being your mom and dad but we don’t work as a couple.”
5. Pay attention to your kids’ feelings.
During the conversation, listen to what your children have to say—good and bad. Acknowledge their opinions and feelings. It may also help to admit that you are also sad and anxious, making it clear that it’s ok for them to feel the same. Once the initial conversation has ended, keep in mind that your kids will still continue to process their emotions and may come back with further concerns and questions. Make sure you’re there for them when they need more support, and provide opportunities for them to speak their minds over the next few days and weeks.
There’s no magic strategy to completely smooth over the divorce process for your kids, but you can help them process things as best you can. As you move forward with the strategies above, be sure to let your children see you and your significant other cooperating for their well-being. This can help give them a sense of security and hope for the future, helping them to further process the new changes to their lives as these conversations continue.