Families in Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and surrounding areas in Florida, like families across the country, are often tasked with one of the hardest things they’ll ever have to do: tell their children they’re getting divorced. The way you handle this initial conversation sets the tone for the rest of your divorce, and this moment may be something your children remember for the rest of their lives. Don’t reveal your divorce in a fit of anger or without thinking about how you’re going to do it. Your children deserve clear explanations and an environment in which it feels safe to ask questions and share feelings. Here’s how to give that to them.
Be Clear and Specific
Some parents don’t want to deal with the pain of telling a child a divorce is permanent, so they make the mistake of saying daddy’s going on vacation or that mommy and daddy are going to life separately “for a while.” This creates false hopes that can give rise to intense anxiety and depression. Your child needs to know that divorce is permanent and that you won’t get back together. Try something along the lines of “Mommy and daddy cannot live together anymore. We love you very much, and this has nothing to do with you. We’ll both still see you a lot, but we won’t be seeing each other as much.”
As with everything else in parenting, you need to tailor your conversation to your child’s age and maturity level. You know your child best, but the general rule is to offer more information to older children. Children under the age of five may need lots of help understanding the very concept of divorce. School-aged children may be primarily concerned with how this will affect their lives. Older teens may want to know why. In each case, answer your child’s questions openly, without revealing anything potentially harmful or age-inappropriate.
Discuss it Together
It’s best if you reveal the divorce together. This united front prevents either of you from saying something that could potentially blame the other parent, thereby undermining your child’s relationship with his or her other parent. Discussing it together also shows your child that the fact that you’re divorcing doesn’t mean you’ll stop being a family. Of course, doing this is not easy, so ensure you and your spouse plan what to say ahead of time. If you can’t agree, a session or two with a therapist or mediator may help you decide how best to broach this painful subject.
Control Your Own Emotions
Here’s a cardinal rule of life as a divorced parent: it is your job to comfort your child, not the other way around. Don’t penalize your child for his or her reaction – even if your child gets angry or is gleeful about the divorce. Likewise, you should never tell your child how overwhelmed you are, since doing so can undermine her confidence in you and discourage her from seeking hep to manage her own emotions. You’re entitled to emotional support, but that support should never, ever come from your child.