One of the most heartbreaking and difficult aspects of a divorce is telling the kids. Not a child of divorce myself, I can't pretend to know how it would feel to be so young and innocent and have your heart shattered when you hear shocking news that gives you a sense your family is falling apart. That said, I do have children of divorce, and I know how they think and react to certain situations, divorce included.
Upon hearing their parents are splitting up, kids become understandably frightened of the unknown, and they feel the anxiety of having to juggle two homes, two single parents, being "different" from other kids, and feeling unsure that both parents are going to be there for them in the future just like they are now.
The good news is, once both parents are settled in their new homes and lives, the kids tend to be relieved and even happier than they were at the end of their parents marriage, because they no longer have to bear the burden of the underlying tension, arguments and the coldness they saw in their mom and dad towards one another. It's the time when healing and adapting to the new normal can begin. But until that time, it's extremely difficult to watch your kids in pain.
Here are 17 things you can say to your kids in the hours, days and weeks after you and your soon-to-be-ex tell them about your divorce:
1. There are going to be lots of changes, but here is what won't change. My love for you and your mom's (or dad's) love for you. Both are constant and ever lasting.
2. This must be really, really scary for you. I get it. But you won't feel this way for very long.
3. I'm here for you, whatever you need from me.
4. I will talk to you and listen to you for as long as you need.
5. I will hug you as much as you want.
6. I will pray with you.
7. I've got you.
8. Every kid knows kids who have divorced parents. They aren't going to be as surprised as you think they are, because you aren't their first friend to tell them your parents are getting divorced.
9. We are still a family filled with love. That will never change.
10. You are special and you mean everything to me. I feel such gratitude that I'm your mom (or dad.)
11. If you are angry, that's OK. But get it out. Tell someone. I can be that person if you want. You can yell and scream and hit something if you need to.
12. It's OK to cry. It's a good thing, actually, even for boys.
13. You can ask me a million questions, even the same ones over and over again and I will answer you.
14. If you heard me on the phone with someone or you saw me crying, ask me about it. I will be honest with you.
15. I will always love mom (or dad's) family because they will always be your family and they love you so much.
16. Things are going to be sad for a little while and then down the road, they won't be anymore.
17. The best thing I ever did was have you.
I'm not saying that these are the end-all and the answers to your problems. I just feel like I know how kids of divorce think, and I know that if I were a kid, these are things that would comfort and soothe me tremendously. Of course, in addition to comforting kids with words, countless hugs and kisses are good too.
Jackie Pilossoph is the author of her blog, Divorced Girl Smiling, and the comedic divorce novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase. She also writes feature stories, along with the weekly dating and relationships column, Love Essentially" for Chicago Tribune Media Group local publications. Pilossoph lives in Chicago. Oh, and she's divorced.
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