It might be something you dread; but no matter what ages your kids are when you divorce, there will come a point when you’ll have to discuss it with them. Even if you get divorced when your child is an infant, eventually that child will come to understand that he or she does not have the same family life as his friends, or he will wonder why you and your ex don’t live together like his friends’ parents do.
So what do you say? How do you approach this? Here are some tips for talking with your kids about divorce.
Keep It Civil
This may be one of the hardest – but most important – aspects of divorce. If one spouse can’t or won’t be civil, you can at least be civil on your end and the contrast between you will be noted by your child(ren). Experts almost universally agree that co-parenting and respecting the relationship your child has with the other parent is vital.
So as you approach this subject with your kids, make sure you don’t approach it with a “blame the ex-spouse” attitude. Make sure you don’t make disparaging remarks about the other parent.
Make It Age-Appropriate
Children can only bear so much information; they don’t understand complex adult themes and emotions, nor should they be saddled with that kind of information. While older children can understand more details, choose what you’re going to share carefully. If possible, you might pick up some books on the subject for advice on what to say at what age.
It’s Not All about You
Remember that you’re talking to a child and his or her parents’ relationship; it’s about the parent-child relationship, not your husband-wife relationship. Keeping this in mind, a discussion about divorce might be aided by sharing your wedding pictures and memorabilia with your child. This will show him that he did indeed come from a real marriage in which his two parents loved each other.
The past love between you and your ex may be uncomfortable for you, but understanding its existence might make a big difference for your child.
Listen and Understand
After hearing that you’re not supposed to say anything negative about your ex, it’s important to give your child permission to tell you something negative about the other parent. In other words, if your child has real hurt or frustration with the other parent, he will need to talk to you about it.
Don’t cut him off – instead, listen objectively without taking sides and without judging his feelings or the actions of the other parent. Ask him how that makes him feel and help him find a way to deal with the way his other parent is acting.
Encourage the Relationship with the Other Parent
While you can’t parent for your ex, you can go to some lengths to help the relationship between your ex and your child. When you talk to your child about your divorce, point out that your divorce does not mean your child can’t have a relationship with his other parent. Assure him that Mom and Dad will still be a part of his life. You’re not divorcing your child; you’re divorcing each other.