Making the decision to divorce is difficult enough, but having to share that news with your children can be a heart-wrenching moment. No matter how old or young your children are, there is certain to be confusion and emotion as they try to process the difficult changes ahead, even if your home has recently experienced stress and trauma because of the tension between you and your spouse.
Like any loving parent, you want to spare your child as much pain as you can during this challenging time, and your approach to this intense conversation may set the tone for the weeks and months ahead. You will want to choose your words carefully and impress upon your child how solid and stable your love for him or her will remain.
What to say and not to say
If you have not previously discussed your marital strain with your child, you may simply want to acknowledge your struggles without giving too much detail. Chances are the child already knows things are not right, and your confirmation may even be a relief. Throughout the conversation and over the days to come, the following are critical things to say to your child:
- You and the other parent love the child, and nothing will change that.
- The troubles in your marriage are adult problems and not the child’s fault in any way.
- There is nothing the child can do to fix things, such as trying to be good or keeping his or her bedroom clean.
- You feel sad, and it is okay for your child to feel sad or even angry.
- You understand how upsetting and confusing this must be for the child.
- It may take time, but things will get better.
As much as possible, you will want to maintain your routines with the child to provide some stability in this difficult time. Perhaps most importantly, you should refrain from any negative talk about the other parent since this may be especially confusing for your child.
Your child may have nothing to say, or he or she may ask many questions. The child may want to know what changes to expect, such as who will live where and when the divorce will happen. It is important to be honest but to answer appropriately. Additionally, make sure your child understands that you are willing to listen to whatever concerns or fears he or she may have and that he or she can come to you any time with questions.