Sharing bad news is never easy, but telling the kids that you and your spouse are divorcing is a particularly heartbreaking time.
Whether they’ve seen it coming or not, this is a family chat they’re not likely to forget. That’s why it’s so important to get it right.
Child psychologists and social workers generally agree that no matter how embittered your marriage has become, it’s important for both parents to sit down with children together to share the news.
“The number one mistake parents make is taking the kids aside and telling them separately, blaming the other spouse,” says Glencoe-based therapist Kathi Marks.
These ‘Dos and Don’ts’ from Marks and from Northfield practitioner Marcia Spira provide some guidance:
Agree in advance what you’re going to say. Marks suggests something like this: “Mommy and Daddy haven’t been getting along well for a while now. Remember how we were fighting the other day? Parents never stop loving their kids, but sometimes they stop loving each other.”
Have a plan ready. The kids will want to know how their lives will change – do they have to move? Will they change schools? Know what will stay the same, too.
Be 99% certain that divorcing is what your future holds before you sit your kids down. It’s confusing to them and erodes emotional trust if you go back and forth.
Keep hostility toward your spouse at bay. No finger pointing, no yelling. And watch your body language, your kids are.
Assure your children that they are not the reason behind your split. “Be clear: our job is to take care of you. It’s not your job to fix what’s broken with us,” says Spira.
No one wins in the blame game. ”That typically backfires on the parent doing the finger-pointing,” Marks says. Someday your children might want to know what happened in your marriage, but be respectful and remember, this is your child’s parent you’re talking about.
Information overload is a no-no. Keep it simple and age appropriate.
Pretending that this is an exciting development will ring false to kids of any age. “It’s a confusing and sad time,” Spira notes. “Saying it’s an adventure because they’ll have two houses and two sets of toys won’t feel true because they’ll see how unhappy everyone is.”
Want to do the best for your kids? According to Marks, research shows that the kids who have the best post-divorce outcomes are those whose parents give the perception of being on friendly terms.