How to Talk to Your Child About Divorce You've tried. You really, really tried and it just isn't going t work out. Here's how to break the news to your kids. BY DAVID J. GLASS
Some marriages just don't work out, but you can still handle the divorce process with maturity.
“ No matter what their response, allow your children to express themselves and their emotions in any form that they choose.”
Unfortunately, you and your spouse have decided to file for divorce. Hopefully, you’ve also decided to keep things amicable; to work together to resolve as many issues as possible without having to go to court. If you have children, your primary goal should be to protect them from the inevitable traumas of the divorce process, while being as open and honest as you can. Below are the six steps you should take to best tell your children about your impending divorce:
Meet With Your Children Together: If at all possible, both parents need to be present when telling the children about the divorce so they can reinforce firsthand that though they will no longer be married, they will always be parents together and share their love for their children. Make certain, you agree on "telling your story" so that you and your spouse do not contradict one another or argue while you are breaking the news of the divorce to your kids. Choose a time when the conversation will not be rushed; when both parents will be have plenty of time afterward to answer any and all questions the children may pose. Also, it is best to tell the children about the divorce on a day they do not have to go to school. They need time to process and deal with their feelings at home, in a safe environment, with one or both parents available to them for comfort and compassion.
Reassure Your Children: Begin the conversation by telling your children how much you love them and that nothing will ever change that basic truth. Emphasize that the divorce is not their fault. Best, not to go into any "gory details," but do provide an age-appropriate explanation about the reasons for the divorce. Doing this from the get-go will go a long way in helping the kids deal with the news; what might be a shocking reality to them. Next, your kids will want to know where they are going to live and with whom, and how their lives are going to change. You can help your children to be prepared for these changes by being honest about what you know, and what you do not know.
Accept Your Children’s Feelings About the Divorce: No matter what their response, allow your children to express themselves and their emotions in any form that they choose. If they are sad, you should allow them to be sad, and help them to identify their feelings, before jumping in to help them "fix" those feelings. Likewise, if your children are angry at you, you need to allow them to express their anger, process their anger, and eventually move through it in their own time. The bottom-line: "be there" for your children despite what they are feeling and show them that you not only understand them, but that you are not going to be angry, or disappointed with them, and that you are not going to abandon them under any circumstances.
Let Your Children Know that You, Too, Have Feelings About the Divorce: By admitting to your children that you may feel afraid, sad, or get angry, you validate their own feelings. You also demonstrate how successful modulation of your own emotions helps you "get through" tough times. Don’t forget: Children typically model their parents. Set this transparent example.
Maintain as Many Routines as Possible: Routines portend of stability to children. Stability means security. By maintaining the same weekday and weekend schedules, as much as possible, and similarly between the two homes will go a long way in making the children feel secure in their "brand new world."
Fully Support Your Children’s Relationship With the Other Parent: It’s true that if you and your ex-spouse got along, you’d still be together, but that doesn’t mean you don’t nurture your ex’s relationship with your child. Make every effort to get along. Be cordial and polite; even friendly, if possible. Avoid "badmouthing" the other parent at all times, despite what may be your legitimate grievances. If you do, your child(‘s) chances of not only surviving, but thriving, after the divorce will increase substantially. Children always need to hear and feel that you believe they are safe to be with the other parent, and moreover, that you are happy that they have the time and opportunity to spend with the other parent.
If you follow these steps, not only will you comfort and nurture your child through this difficult transition and change of lifestyle, you will also tend to better enjoy the new "free time" to do some of the things you tended to put on hold. You can use this newfound time to take a quick break from being a parent and devote a little more time to yourself and to what you want your own future to look like.
David J. Glass, a shareholder at the Los Angeles law firm of Enenstein Ribakoff LaVina & Pham, is a Certified Family Law Specialist and has a PhD in Psychology. As such, he understands the many complexities of marriage, family, and divorce on many levels.