When parents are going through a divorce, kids have no choice but to be part of the experience. Often children feel sad, angry, confused, and helpless as they watch their families fall apart. While there is no way to completely shelter your kids from these emotions, you can help make things easier by maintaining essential boundaries. A good place to start is by knowing what you don’t need to tell your kids about the divorce.
Take a Step Back and Think Before You Talk
If you have not told your children about the divorce yet, this is an ideal time to stop and carefully consider your words. Even if your kids suspected it was coming, their lives will never be the same after hearing that their parents are splitting up. It’s important to deliver the news with sensitivity and under the best conditions possible. Ideally, you and your spouse can agree on a non-accusatory way of telling your kids about the divorce together. Parents talking together in a way that does not assign blame reassures children that the divorce has nothing to do with them. By having everyone in the same room, you are opening things up for questions, and siblings will have one another to lean on for support. Additionally, discussing the issue as a family can also provide your kids with an emotionally safe space to process the information. Seeing you and your ex coming together to support them can also provide comfort to your children. Parents have to continue raising kids after the divorce and starting things off as a team can set the tone for a positive co-parenting relationship.
What Not to Tell Your Children About the Divorce
Talking About but Not Talking About the Divorce
- Once you have told your kids that you and your ex are going to divorce, the case usually advances forward reasonably quickly. You or your ex will probably find another place to live, and then legal papers will be sent back and forth. Parents tend to shift gears at this point and begin talking with their attorneys, friends, and family about “the case.” Your children don’t need to hear about the status of your divorce, especially if there are disagreements about legal custody and physical placement. It’s going to be enough for them to get used to spending time with each of you according to a schedule and in different homes. By keeping discussions about your divorce case away from your children, you can help minimize the stress in their lives.
- No one knows you better than your children, and they are going to be around during some of the most vulnerable times of your divorce. You will probably be having some stressful moments and bad days when your kids ask important questions about the other parent or their new circumstances. It can be tempting to nonchalantly make remarks like, “Well, we live here now because your daddy has a new girlfriend,” or “Your Mom is late to get you because she can’t make time for her family because work is more important than her kids.” If you have young children, you may think these comments are going unheard. However, kids often interpret these types of statements as being about them. They can end up internalizing the messages as meaning that they are not important to the other parent or are to blame for the parent’s absence. Older kids hear these kinds of comments and can feel resentful of you or conflicted about siding against the other parent. Offhanded remarks about the divorce or the other parent have no place around your kids. Find more appropriate places to vent your emotions, and do your best to keep negative comments away from your children.
Adult Conversations with Children
- As your kids get older, they will develop the emotional maturity to express themselves more clearly and have more involved conversations with you. These changes do not make them adults. Nor do they make it okay for you to have an open and honest discussion with them about the divorce and the other parent. Part of your children growing up is pushing boundaries with you. It’s your job as a parent to maintain them. Your child may insist that he or she can “handle” the ugly truth about your divorce. However, you are the parent, and keeping the details on a need-to-know basis for the sake of their emotional well-being and maintaining a healthy parent-child relationship is in everyone’s best interest. No matter how grown-up your child may seem, always remember you are talking negatively about their mother or father. On some level, your child identifies as being part of that parent, and you could be hurting them when you make these remarks.