Telling your children that you and your spouse are getting a divorce is likely to be one of the most important and difficult communications you are likely to have in your life. It is therefore very important to be prepared.
First, be prepared to handle your child’s reaction in a sensitive and respectful manner. Before you have this conversation, you should educate yourself about the best words to use keeping in mind the emotionally developmental stage of your child and what your child needs. There are some very good books on this subject, such as “Mom’s House, Dad’s House” by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D. You might also consult with a family therapist for guidance.
Second, it is important for you and your spouse to have this conversation together with your child. This will present a sense to your child that you have made this decision together (even if only one of you initiated it). Most importantly, it shows to your child that you and your spouse will work together to ease the transition.
Make it clear to your child that you both will always love him and that he will always be the most important part of your lives. You should emphasize that the divorce has nothing to do with how you both feel about him and that the decision was made solely between the two of you. Make the commitment to yourselves and to your child that you will not blame each other – and will not speak badly about each other in front of or to your child. Make sure to honor your commitment.
Be clear to your child about what he can expect in terms of when and how often he will spend time with each of you. Therefore, it is important to have a parenting time schedule prepared, or at least a general concept of an arrangement, before you speak to your child. Make it clear that your child will have two homes now where he will always belong.
Perhaps most importantly, listen to your child as he responds to the news. Address his fears, concerns, and his sadness. Remember that your child is going through a grief process as he struggles with the loss of his family unit (much as you are). You should expect that the divorce will be very difficult for you child to accept. This is why it is quite common for children to hold out hope that their parents will get back together.
Therefore, it is important to avoid giving your child any false hopes that the two of you will get back together. During instances where the family is together at an event or outing, you might need to clarify to your child that while you are not getting back together, it is important to both of you that your child experiences his parents being able to get along because you will always have him in common.
You should keep in mind that this is a dramatic and difficult transition for your child – just as it is for you. Remember to keep your child front and center in your mind when making decisions. This will help ease the transition for all of you and will go a long way towards helping to avoid any long term negative emotional effects on your child.
Please pass this information on to anyone who might find it helpful.