Divorce rates are rising in the United States. A divorce occurs every 36 seconds in America and over 800,000 divorces occur every year. While no married couple ever plans to get a divorce, its, unfortunately, a reality that a large majority of couples will have to go through the divorce process. It’s difficult enough to go through a divorce, but add kids into the process and it’s made much more difficult. If you’re going through a divorce and are having a hard time having conversations about divorce with your children, here are some of the top things you should consider as you work through the process together.
Plan Ahead of Time: What Do You Want to Say?
Having conversations about divorce with your children is not something you should do spur of the moment. You can’t know ahead of time how your child will react to the news, but you can control, when, where, and what you say to your child. Take some time before you have the conversation to plan out the key things you want to say to your child. Pick a place where you are both comfortable, such as your family home, to have the conversation so your child will feel safe. Don’t do it right before a holiday, big event, or bedtime. Your child, and you, will need some time to work through it together.
While you need to take some time to plan, don’t wait too long. Once you and your spouse have decided to get a divorce, your child should be one of the first people to hear. The last thing you want is to wait too long to tell them and have them learn the news from someone else.
Schedule a Time to Talk to Your Child Together
The best way to have conversations about divorce with your child is to do it together. Plan a time when both parents can sit down together to talk with your child. If it’s too difficult to talk with your spouse, you may consider having your family law lawyer there to ensure that things don’t turn sour between the both of you in front of your child. Having someone to help mediate the tension can help. If you absolutely can’t be together, seek help in your planning.
Having both parents together when the news is shared with your child will help to cut out any conflicting stories that could come up if you and your spouse talk separately with your child.
Explain Why It’s Happening
When you start to have conversations about divorce with your child, they will want to know why it’s happening. While they certainly don’t need to know the full details and are likely too young to understand them, giving them some form of explanation will help them to understand why divorce was the best option for your marriage. Having a specific reason such as “We want different things from our lives”, or “We like each other as friends, but we aren’t in love anymore”, may help your child to accept in their mind that it’s happening and not hold on to hope that you’ll stay together.
Make Sure Your Child Knows It’s Not Their Fault
It can be common for some children to think that a divorce is somehow their fault. The last thing you want is your child to be carrying around guilt for something that they had no part in. As you have conversations about divorce with your child, help them understand that it has nothing to do with them, and is strictly between the relationship of their parents. Remind them that even though you and your spouse don’t love each other anymore in a romantic way, that you both still love your child very much. Help them understand that divorce does not change your love for them.
Try to Keep Their Routine as Normal as Possible
There will definitely be some big changes for your child as a result of a divorce. They may be splitting time between households, depending on the custody evaluation, and will be learning to adapt to a “new norm.”
However, one thing you can do to help your child through this new adjustment is to keep their routine as close to normal as possible. Don’t start cutting out activities or routines that they have been doing if you can avoid it. If they’ve been attending a catholic school in your area, work the schedule out so they can keep attending the same school. If they’ve been signed up for team sports, let them continue on with those activities. There will be enough change, let them hold onto what they know and love to help them through the tough change.
Tell Your Child Ahead of Time What Will Change and What Will Stay the Same
While you can do your best to make everything stay as routine as possible, there are things that are going to change. Prepare your child ahead of time by letting them know specifically what they should expect to change and what will stay the same. If you’ve already figured things out with a child custody attorney, let your child know what the schedule is for when they will be with each parent. Talk about which parent is going to stay in the family home and which parent will be at a new home. If you do have to cancel certain activities, let them know what they can replace them with. Give them options so they can be excited about something even though there is change.
Having conversations about divorce that involve all of the change can be heavy. So make sure to break them up with some good things. Tell your children all the things that will stay the same. Help them find some positives. They may meet new friends in their new activities. They will get to explore new places when they stay at their other parent’s house. Help them to be excited about something to help offset the negativity.
Prepare Your Child For the Legal Aspect
When you start having conversations about divorce with your child, one area you will really need to prepare them for is the legal aspect. Divorce litigation meetings and attorneys along with court proceedings can be very scary for children. It’s a new thing that feels intimidating and if they don’t understand the reason for it, could be scary. Talk with your child about the different legal aspects they’ll be involved in. Explain what they can expect to hear and see. Introduce them to the divorce attorneys they’ll be meeting so they have another familiar face.
You’ll also want to think about and prepare which legal aspects you want your child to be involved in. For some children, it can help them work through the process. For others, it can be too overwhelming. There will be certain aspects, such as working with a custody lawyer, that they have to be involved in. But chose carefully what you involve them in and what you protect them from.
Do Your Best Not to Place Blame
Its undeniable that divorce comes with a lot of negativity and hard feelings. It’s also likely that one spouse will feel that the other is “at fault” or “to blame” for the divorce. As you have conversations about divorce with your child, don’t let these feelings come into the conversations. You don’t want to have your child feel pulled between who they should be loyal to. As they get older, they will come to develop their own feelings regarding the real cause of the divorce. The key, as you’re working through it, is to give your child the support they need in this big change.
Give Them Time to Process
While divorce may not be as surprising for you as you’ll likely have been dealing with issues for a while with your spouse, it could come as a huge shock to your child. Depending on their age, they may not have even recognized that there were any issues or problems with their parents. It’s a big change for you, but maybe an even bigger change for a small child who is just learning what divorce really is. When you start having conversations about divorce with them, it will take some time for your child to understand what it means for them and their life. Give them time to process what they’ve just learned. Don’t pressure them into asking questions. If they want to be silent for a while about their feelings, let them process that way. If they have constant questions, do your best to answer them. The important thing is creating a space where they can heal and adapt to this new lifestyle they’ll be living.
Let Them Ask Questions
Your child is going to have a lot of questions when you start having conversations about divorce. They may want to talk right away, others will need time to work through the initial shock. As previously mentioned, there are some aspects of divorce your child is too young to hear about. But when they have questions, do your best to answer them. They may be more questions about things that will change, more questions about why it’s happening, questions about the legal aspects, maybe even questions about what they discuss with divorce attorneys. Create a space where your child feels comfortable talking with you. Some questions will develop over time so be prepared to answers questions not just in the following days, but even months after the divorce is underway.
Take Care of Yourself
There’s no way you’ll be able to help your children if you don’t first help yourself. Just like flight attendants explain when you get on an airplane, in case of emergency you have to first put on your own air mask, before helping others. You want to be the best you can to help your child move forward in a healthy way during this hard time and if you can’t do that yourself, you can’t expect them to either. Make sure to take time to take care of yourself during this process. Deal with the stress and health implications that a tough situation like this can have. If you are dealing with the negative effects of stress, like lack of sleep or hair loss, talk with your doctor. They will be able to refer you to a therapist to have assistance working through issues. They may even be able to help you find a hair loss specialist so you don’t have to deal with that on top of everything else.
You’ll also want to make sure you have the necessities taken care of. Make sure you’ve got your financial means covered. If you have to take time off work, talk with your employer about different options. You may even consider visiting a jewelry pawn shop to sell your old ring for money to cover bills. Don’t let things fall apart. Allow yourself some time to grieve but don’t let it get your life totally off-track.
A big part of working through a divorce or any other difficult event in life is learning when to ask for help. You have family and friends around you who love you and want to help. Don’t try to do everything on your own. If things are falling behind at home, such as chores, accept help from a friend. Even if it’s just washing the dishes in the sink or folding some laundry, getting help to take things off your plate will help you focus on the big decisions you need to be making.
Having conversations about divorce with your child will be difficult. It takes a lot of planning and careful preparation to help them work through a big change that they won’t be able to fully understand. As long as you take care of yourself and use all of the ideas and resources mentioned here, the conversation won’t be easy, but it will go much more smoothly. While you have a dedicated legal team to assist you in the change, you are your child’s number one resource for help and love. Remember that it’s all about helping your child move forward and work past the change in a positive and healthy way.