Getting divorced is an extremely upsetting and distressing time. Here you find yourself alienated from and often even the subject of animosity of the partner who you once were completely in love with. You will be going through a time of incredible social and financial turmoil, and you will possibly lose your home, your extended family and even your friends in the split.
All this is crushing, but if children are involved then things suddenly become a lot more painful. Now you have the very distressing job of having to tell your children about the divorce and let them know that their parents are no longer going to be together and that they are going to face a lot of change in the coming months. For a child it can be scary and confusing and of course highly upsetting, and so it’s important that you put aside your own emotion for a while and instead focus on how they feel. You need to put on a brave face, and you need to rise above your emotions in order to protect your children from this occurrence if you are going to avoid them becoming collateral damage.
And at some point you are of course going to have to tell them. So how do you go about breaking such painful and adult news to your children? Of course how everyone goes about it will be different and there is no right or wrong answer, but there are certainly some things that can make it easier to swallow across the board. Here are some words of advice for those telling their children about a separation.
For one last time you and your partner need to be united and you need to put aside any personal differences in order to look out for a mutual concern – your children. Your children need to know that you are separating, but they don’t need to know the extent of the fallout. They need to see you together and working as a team so that they can rest assured that you will be able to look after them as a unit still in the future and so that they know that you both have their best interests at heart.
There’s another reason you need to work together too – and that’s so that you can get your story straight. This means that you need to tell them the same story and let them know that you have the same plans for the future. Otherwise you can send conflicting messages that might confuse children and make matters worse. Appeal to your partner to meet and discuss what you are going to say and then both stick to this story.
And you must not bicker, nor must you insult each other in front of the child. If they see you argue then they will get scared and upset, and furthermore remember that that’s their Mother or Father you’re insulting. Children view their parents as perfect and as always right and so if one tells them the other is flawed this can shatter the illusion and cause them to grow up too quickly. So put aside any bitterness and speak calmly about the situation. And of course tell them together.
And this goes for the future too – when you’re living separately and it’s your turn to have the children – make sure that you avoid those little snipes at your ex that can be all too tempting and that you respect their Mother or Father as you would expect someone to respect yours.
You also need to be honest. While you shouldn’t be vicious or go into too much detail you must not lie to your children. Often we underestimate children and they are actually far more switched on than we give them credit for the most part. Make sure then that you are straightforward with them and that you confirm what they already suspect. Likewise make sure that you are honest about what’s going to happen, and about the big changes that are about to come. They will find out about these in time – so best to give them as long as possible to get used to the idea and to avoid lying. If a child knows they’ve been lied to by their parents then this will only confuse and upset them further.
That means being emotionally honest too – don’t tell your children that you still love each other because this will make them wonder why you are separating (and they’ll wonder if it’s their fault). This will also result in their having a conflicted and warped idea of love and families, whereas telling them honestly will give them a fuller and more complex understanding of relationships. So be kind, but be honest.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be reassuring however, and there are some positives to stress. This is a tragedy that will rock their world, and they are going to need you to reassure them that you both still love them very much, and that they will still get to see both of you a lot. Most importantly you need to reassure them that it is not their fault and that it has nothing to do with them. Otherwise there is the danger that they might believe that if they had gotten better grades, or been better behaved it wouldn’t have happened. Make sure that they know this isn’t the case and that they are still loved and still going to be looked after.
It’s also a good idea to try and involve your children in what comes next. Children appreciate being treated by adults rather than being kept in the dark and that you are asking for their feelings will be comfort to them as well as pleasing. It will also help you both to come up with a scenario where they will be as happy as possible. This will also help once again to prepare them for what is coming.
This is a highly emotional time, but it’s important that you provide a rock for your children as you likely always have. In other words try to avoid breaking down crying as this will make your children scared that something really serious is happening and it will make them sad too. Tell them calmly and try to control your emotions in front of them – just as you mustn’t get angry with your partner.
Your children are now going to have a lot to work through emotionally and a lot to come to terms with – and they’ll need your help in order to do this. So talk it all through with them, ask them how they feel, and make sure that you are there to listen to what they have to say and to answer any questions – don’t make this all about you telling them how it’s going to be, rather make it a two way discussion and be there to look after them.
In the coming months and years your children will be emotionally vulnerable and this is not something that is going to go away over night. It is very important then that you don’t just assume that everything is ‘back to normal’. Look out for any signs of problems and for any upset and make sure to show them as much attention and love and care as you can.
Of course you also need to ensure that you are attentive in how you set up the new arrangements. Take time to not only discuss this with your partner, but also to ensure that you consider your children’s needs. For instance you might think it’s a good idea for your children to go and stay with one of you – but if that means moving away from their school and current friends then this might not be what’s best for them right now.
Don’t shower your child in gifts as this can feel like you’re trying to ‘buy’ their love and forgiveness, but do be sure to pay them extra attention emotionally and to reassure them that you both love them. If they want to talk then listen, and if you do notice that they are having difficulty adjusting – or if they are having problems at school then it can be a good idea to get them some kind of counseling who will provide an objective third party to listen to their troubles and to look for any emotional problems that the split may have caused.
It’s also important to make sure that those around them are sensitive and considerate too. Inform the school so that they know that parents are currently a sensitive issue and so that they know your child may not be acting themselves. Likewise tell family and friends and parents of your children’s friends. If you think your child needs someone to talk to but you don’t yet want to send them for counseling then let them talk to an aunt or a God parent.
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