What’s the Best Way to Tell Your Kids About Your Divorce? THE IMPOSSIBLE BALANCING ACT OF BEING A PARENT
Perhaps the most difficult conversation a parent can have with their child is one pertaining to an upcoming divorce. If your kids are old enough to understand the situation, then they’ll likely remember this conversation for the rest of their lives. While that definitely adds pressure on the parents, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t properly inform their kids of the big changes that lie ahead; it just means they should really think about how they want the conversation to unfold. Many parents choose this month to talk to their kids about a separation or divorce for two reasons: Either they didn’t want to curb the fun during summer break, or they were forced to break the news in order to plan a school schedule. If you’re stuck trying to figure out how to tell your kids about the dissolution of your marriage, here’s some advice to keep in mind. Lots of big changes are going to occur, and, while it’s certainly emotionally stressful, it’s up to you to give your kids enough time and information to navigate their new lives. By trying to protect them from knowing the truth, you are diminishing their ability to handle these changes with resilience. Plus, it’s a known fact that kids sense when something is wrong with their parents. By trying to protect them, you might be causing more harm than you know. There are different schools of thought regarding what details you should share when having this conversation with your kids, but in my fellow attorneys’ and my experience, what your kids need to know depends on who they are as individuals. Are they old enough to understand the details? For example, many single parents have to rejoin the workforce following a divorce. Is your child old enough to understand that Mom or Dad needs to go
back to work and cut back on spending to ensure a solid financial situation? Or do they just need to know that Mom or Dad decided to get a job? You should never create a rose- colored situation or blatantly lie, but, if your child is too young to understand specific details or if those details will alienate them from another parent (like lying, cheating, etc.), then there isn’t a whole lot they can do with the knowledge. When you’re deciding what information your child needs to know and can comprehend, make sure you are doing three important things: First, let them know that both their parents are there for them to talk to and they have other helpful and supportive parties they can turn to as well. Second, try your best to talk about your former spouse in a calm and amicable manner. Finally, don’t use your kids as a sounding board for your vent sessions. Research shows that while divorce involves a lot of understanding from the kids involved, it’s not what actually harms them; it’s the conflict created from the divorce that brings them pain. When the communication is clear and honest, rather than full of tension, your kids will adapt. But it’s up to you to lay the foundation. As caregivers, we are here to offer children love, support, and self-esteem, but, when many parents are in the middle of a divorce, they turn to their kids for the same kind of fulfillment. Feeling like they need to build up your confidence and your emotional state is too much responsibility for a child, especially when they are enduring big changes in their own lives. Plus, children adapt better if they know Mom and Dad are okay. To help with this process, you should aim to keep a strong support system for yourself filled with trustworthy family members, friends, and a therapist if you see one. The more you can talk to the people in your circle, the less you have to worry about burdening your child or using him/her as a sounding board for your frustration, stress, and confusion. All of us here at ADLG understand that when it comes to telling your kids about your divorce, there is no simple and foolproof method. But there are ways you can help it go smoothly. Let us know how else we can help.
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