As a divorce specialist, I have noticed a trend of spouses who are really trying their best to settle their divorce in a positive way, which is a fantastic development. Not so long ago a New York City lawyer confronted me with the statement that New Yorkers always want to fight when it comes to a divorce. I told him that I don't agree and his assumption is not only false, but financially not in the best interest of his clients. Messy divorces can sometimes lead to personal bankruptcy and financial ruin. More and more couples are realizing that the end of a relationship does not have to spell doom. Things are changing and mediation is gaining territory in the US.
But even with more positive and peaceful developments, there often is a second challenge: How to tell your kids that you are getting divorced. Despite parents' best intentions, the wrong approach can create irreparable damage that follows children into adulthood. For this reason I consulted my mediators to come up with useful advice based on our experiences with divorcing parents. There are many resources available, but we are convinced that these tips should help you to break the news to your children in the most kind and loving way.
Stand together as parents
Even though your marriage is over, you are still parents and you owe it to your children to team-up where they are involved. It is important to focus on your children's future and what's best for them. In other words, put the mutual love for your children ahead of your negative emotions about each other. You could compare this effort with other team projects that make you proud. Remember that you were successful as a team of parents and you realized the wonderful project of "children". Adopting a more businesslike approach benefits the future and minimizes incidental emotional outbursts you want to avoid when children are involved.
Tell your children that you are going to split up together. No exceptions. With both parents present for this difficult conversation, children will have a chance to react and receive the reassurance that they need. Parents need to prepare themselves very well for this conversation and strive to stay strong and in control of their emotions in front of the children. Remembering the overall strategy of a businesslike approach will help with that.
The word divorce needs to be said to the children as early as possible in the process, but not before a concrete plan has been hatched and both parents are well prepared. It is very important to avoid creating uncertainty for the children. Make sure the message is clear and that both parents are there to support the children. This prevents children from feeling like have to "choose a side". Both parents are equally important. No matter how angry the spouses are at each other, contact with both parents is essential to every child.
Different kinds of love
Explain to your children that mom and dad are divorcing because they are no longer in love with each other. But be careful to explain to the children that they are still loved and that nothing will ever change that. This is especially important to assuage any fears that parental love is finite or temporary. We recommend sharing these reasons with your children in a clear and convincing manner, so that they can brush off any gossip or rumors that might pop up on the schoolyard.
It's not their fault
One of the most important things is to continuously emphasize is that the divorce is not their fault. Children are inclined to believe that fighting between parents may have started because of their bad behavior. It's important not to involve the children in any conflict and to reassure them that mom and dad are taking care of everything and will do their best to keep things normal. Stick to the daily rituals such as reading in bed before they go to sleep, especially at this time.
Consistency and new plans
Uncertainty and lack of consistency can have a very negative impact on children. That is why it is so important for parents should present new plans and situations as soon as they can. Questions like: where will I going to live? With whom? Do I get my own room? Will I need to change schools? Can I stay with the same sports team? All these questions need to be decided and answered quickly. Preparation is key for parents to be able to roll out the next steps and curb all fears of disruption in the lives of their children.
Divorce Apps and moving forward
No two divorces are alike and most are complicated. But if you take the time to plan and prepare your response, the difficulties do not have to go on forever. Society is getting better at discussing how to divorce in a more positive way and that means considering the children and making the whole experience more bearable for them. A great example that we are moving ahead is the development of divorce apps. These apps help parents to support children through the divorce process. One of my recommended apps is: App Kids & Divorce. These technological developments are useful and I hope that there will be more to come.
We know that marriage is all too often not forever and ever, but remember that kids never asked for a divorce. Tell them it's not their fault as much as you can and let them know the love of you and your spouse for them is forever...every day!