Having children almost always complicates divorces, both in terms of coming to a custody agreement but also, more importantly, helping manage their experience and emotions through the process. This starts with how you talk to your children before and during the divorce.
Children will respond to divorce differently at different ages, but they pick up on whatever’s going on between you and your spouse. That’s why talking to them is so important. Here are some tips for talking to your kids about your divorce to help them get through it and cope with the changes to their lives.
No matter how old your kids are, openness and honesty is usually the best policy. For younger children, try to explain what’s happening clearly without going into too much detail about why it’s happening. Although it could be very tempting to try to find positives for them in the situation (two birthday parties every year!), these may begin to feel hollow as your kids get older, so it’s often best to avoid sugarcoating things too much.
With older children, you’ll likely get more questions and big emotions as they process what you’re telling them. They’ll have a greater understanding of relationships and how the divorce will impact their day-to-day routines, but they’ll also have tougher questions. Spend some time thinking about what questions they might ask, so you’re prepared with a thoughtful response.
Regardless of what age your kids are, don’t overshare, say negative things, or pit yourself against the other parent. The key is to make your kids feel safe and loved, and make sure they know that they still have both of you as parents.
No matter how old your children are, the divorce process will likely be challenging for them and bring out big emotions. They’ll have lots of their own questions, comments, observations, and thoughts. Make sure they know they can always talk to you, and that you will always listen to them. Take all their questions seriously, consider them carefully, and answer as truthfully and fully as you can. As always, remember that “I don’t know that answer” is a valid response when it’s the truth—it’s OK for kids to know that adults don’t know everything.
Ultimately as a parent, you know your kids as well as anyone, so you’ll be the best judge of what they need to hear from you and when.