One of the most stressful part of going through the divorce process for many couples is how and when to tell the children. There is not a perfect formula for making this vision but there are a few things that you can do and also things you should avoid to make this step in the divorce process less damaging to the children.
- Never blame. Recently, I saw the trailer for a new movie coming out Batman versus Superman. My 11-year-old son approached me after seeing this trailer extremely distressed. When I asked him why, his answer was quite interesting. He explained to me that Batman and Superman would never fight with each other because they are both good guys. It made him upset that someone would even try to convince him that it was possible for them to go against each other. This is exactly how many children and teens feel when it comes to trying to make sense of their parents divorce. Both of you, as their parents, are their number one hero. They are not wired to accept that one of you is good and the other one is bad. The statistics are real. Divorce is a major contributor to teenage suicide, teenage drug use, pregnancy, and teenage dropout rate in high school. However, it is not the divorce that causes this. It is how you divorce. Trying to convince your children that somebody is to blame will cause irreparable damage to them and must be avoided at all costs.
- The truth will not set you free: I occasionally hear from parents that they feel like their children need to hear the truth. These parents want their children to know exactly why this divorce is happening and feel their children deserve to know the truth. However in divorce, there is no such thing as “the truth.” Both parties have their perception of what the truth is and in most cases those perceptions are very different. Trying to convince your child which version of truth is the accurate one only leads to blame which is is very damaging to the child.
- Never asked your children their preference of where they would like to live after the divorce: Your children want to be parented. They don’t want to be put in a situation where they have to choose between their heroes. Whatever the decision is the children should believe that it was made by a unified mom and dad. To make the child feel involved, simply explain to them you appreciate their input but that it is not going to be their input that determines the decision.
- Stay united when you decide to tell the children. Consider going to a public restaurant where you are required to keep your emotions in check. Sit next to each other as if you are friends and explain to the children that you both are no longer going to be able to be husband and wife but that your role as their mom and dad will never go away. When your children ask you why you’re divorcing, explain to them adult relationships are complicated and that they do not need to worry about it.
- Go do an activity as a family after you have told your children: Go play miniature golf, go bowling, or simply do something that lets the children see mom and dad united and to illustrate that life can and will go on.
- Change their perception. Throughout this process, it’s important for your children to have all kinds of sources of data for creating a paradigm of what divorce is. When it comes to divorce, many kids think of lots of fighting and may have a mental image of a mean guy in a black robe slamming a gavel. However, divorce doesn’t have to look like this for you or your kids. Mediation is a peaceful route to finish your divorce in a comfortable conference room where you would just sit with the mediator and talk about the kids. A more peaceful divorce through mediation can change your children’s perception of divorce and what’s happening around them.