Discussing Divorce with Your Children
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Divorce is never easy. It can be one of the most difficult life experiences you will ever experience. With emotions running extremely high, fear of the future and concern about the present, sometimes parents can get blindsided and may be unable to recognize how much the divorce can be affecting their children.
Children react in different ways and the divorce can be just as traumatic for them as it is for you. Sometimes, it can feel as though it is even more traumatic for children, because they are experiencing something that they do not have a say in that directly impacts their life. As a parent, you might be losing ‘the love of your life’ or your ‘soulmate’ but a child’s first love is their mother and/or father, so they feel as though they are losing their first and only love. It is crucial to keep an open dialogue with your children during this time. Sometimes giving your children a safe place like therapy, where they can express their feelings without judgment, is a very good option to consider.
As previously stated, divorce can be truly devastating and while we are trying to navigate our own personal feelings and emotions regarding the situation, we also must remember to help reassure our children and guide them through any new changes. Children as well as teenagers' emotional levels are drastically heightened and they do not have the tools or skill-set to navigate them. Children, and even teenagers, do not always know how to comprehend what they are experiencing, let alone how to express everything that they may be feeling. Understand that they are experiencing this trauma with you, but that their brains are not fully developed yet so they do need your support to help them cope with everything. Remember that you are all going to get through this together.
It is easy to be dismissive with your children during this time and so it’s highly recommend to avoid using phrases such as:
“This is a decision between mommy and daddy / stay out of it / get over it.”
“Don’t worry about us / everything will be fine / it’s not your problem or concern.”
“Your mom/dad is terrible / doesn’t care about us / is cheap / homewrecker etc…”.
“Mommy wanted to stay with daddy but daddy found a new girlfriend / or vice-versa.”
“You are just like your mother/father!”
“Mom/Dad is leaving us so you need to stop crying, step up and be the man/woman of the house now.”
It is more important that you are as honest as possible with your children. The key thing to remember is not to tell your children anything unless you are 100% sure that you are ready to file for divorce. Obviously, you know your children best and want to be able to try to speak to them in a way that is age-appropriate so that they understand what is happening. It is a highly sensitive subject so try your best to speak delicately on the matter and do not place blame on either side. It is important to be open and willing to answer their questions if they have any. Remember to remain open to accepting their responses and reactions as well. You may find that children and even teenagers might express themselves very differently or have mixed emotions on the subject. They may not even know how to react or what they are actually feeling at that moment. Children sometimes may even blame themselves which can also be traumatic and other times they might get angry that their family is breaking up and will try to fight to prevent their parents from going through with the divorce.
Be mindful that this process is an extremely delicate one which entails a good deal of patience. It might be helpful to try to introduce the topic by using these types of phrases:
“As you might know…mommy and daddy will always have their first love being you. We have been having a lot of problems, which have nothing to do with you or our incredible love for you. Sometimes in marriages problems can’t always get fixed and things can’t always work out the way we planned…sometimes it’s better to go our separate ways…sometimes that means getting a divorce.”
“We want you to know that no matter what happens, mom and dad love you so much. No matter what happens, we promise you that none of this is your fault. It’s our fault and we cannot fix it. We both love you and our love for you will never ever change!”
“Do not ever blame yourself for the problems that mommy and daddy are going through. We understand that none of this is not easy for you to understand but we need you to know that we both love you and we will always be your mom and dad. It is important for us that you know that, even though our decision may not seem fair to you, that you know that you are not at fault for anything that is happening between mom and dad.”
“Even though things are going to change, remember that we will always be family. Sometimes families go through things that cannot be fixed and big changes like this happen. Remember that a big change does not mean that we are not a family. Remember that we are still your family and that families sometimes go through different types of situations. It might be challenging but we will navigate all of these changes, together, one step at a time.”