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Telling Your Children About Divorce

Submitted By A Hall:

Telling your children of your impending divorce won’t be easy, no matter how you do it.

Tell Your Children What is Happening

Franklin D. Roosevelt knew the awesomeness of fear when he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear of the unknown feeds on itself. And the less children know, the more they may worry. Ideally, parents should agree to tell their children together that they are getting divorced. The explanation should be simple. The details of who did what and why the parents are divorcing would not be a part of the explanation (don’t make trial “evidence” a part of your explanation). Some possible words you might say are:

You know that your Mom and Dad have not been getting along. It has been this way for a long time and we have tried to make it better. But we have not been able to do so. After thinking and talking about our relationship for months, we have decided it will be best to separate. The divorce is our decision and is because of our relationship. You are not the cause of our divorce. We both love you and will continue to do so. These words convey several important messages to the children – the divorce is a joint decision and neither partner blames the other, the divorce is not the fault of the children, the parents will continue to love their children and be involved in their lives.

Few divorcing spouses feel amicable enough with each other to tell their children about the divorce without blaming each other. More likely, they tell that the other parent wants a divorce. In effect, they try to capture the child’s allegiance. Big mistake. As you know, how parents label the divorce and the amount and duration of conflict they display, have more to do with the way children cope with divorce than any other event. Starting the divorce with volleys against the other predicts a long war with no winners and bewildered children.

Explain the Divorce in Terms Your Children Can Understand

One way to help children understand divorce is to explain it in terms they can relate to. Acknowledging a friendship of theirs that went sour is one way that is usually helpful.

You recall when you and your friend got upset with each other and stopped seeing each other. The same has happened to your Mom and Dad. We have just become frustrated with each other and want to go our separate ways. It does not mean that we are leaving you, only each other. You will continue to live in the same house, go to the same school, and be able to play with your friends. We remain your parents and love you.

Make Talking about the Divorce Acceptable

Since children will be sad and grieving that you and their mother are divorcing, make clear to your children that it is acceptable to feel angry and sad and to talk about these feelings. Also allow them to express anger toward you. Keep the channels open.

Dads – Provide Structure for Your Children

Eighty-five percent of divorces result in the children staying with the mother as the custodial parent, dad moves to another place, and dad sees the children on alternate weekends, holidays, etc. To take the anxiety out of the children feeling that their dad is abandoning them, take your children to your new apartment and show them where you will be living. Give them your phone number. After you take them back to their mom’s, call them and ask them to call you so that they know you are always available by phone.

Dads – Don’t Promise More than You Can Deliver

Fathers are sometimes tempted to promise their children more than they plan to or are capable of delivering. Remember that children whose parents have just divorced feel abandoned and are trying to find a new sense of security in their lives. A dad who gives them a calendar that he will be with them every other weekend, holiday, etc. should follow through. Or promise them nothing – “I’ll try to see you whenever I can but I’ve been very busy with work lately.” To promise and not show is to renew feelings of abandonment / rejection and to cut a deep chasm in the relationship with your children. It is better to be a father who promises to see his kids only once a year (and who shows up) than to be a dad who promises weekly visits and continually disappoints his children.

Finally, give your children a large calendar and circle in red the weekends, holidays, and times in the summer they will be with you. Physically seeing where you live, talking to you on the phone, and having a calendar, all help to provide your children with the security that their Dad is still there.

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