Nearly every divorcing parent wants to do whatever they can to help their children deal with the transition as well as is possible. What you say when you tell your children (preferably together) you’re divorcing is, of course, important. However, the way you talk to them about the break-up and your co-parent after that initial talk is also crucial to how they process it.
Your children will likely continue to have questions for a long time after you first separate. How you answer those questions and how much you decide to tell them will, of course, depend on the individual child. Their age and ability to understand the complexities of adult relationships will be big factors.
Here are some things, according to one child therapist who counsels children of divorce, that they do and don’t need to know.
What children need to know
- You’re not divorcing them – just each other
- It’s fine to love both parents
- They aren’t responsible for your marriage ending
- You’re not getting back together
- What the custody and new living arrangements will be for them
It’s essential not only to say these things, but to reinforce them with your actions. For example, if you tell your kids their feelings shouldn’t change toward either of you but then you’re angry or sullen when your child tries to tell you what a great time they had at their mom or dad’s house, they’re getting a very different message.
What they don’t need to know
- What their other parent did wrong
- What’s wrong with your ex’s parenting
- How you feel about your ex’s new significant other
There are a lot of ways to explain to your children why you’re getting a divorce without blaming each other. Chances are that they long ago figured out that you weren’t getting along. Just as you shouldn’t place the blame on your spouse, don’t take the blame yourself. Your kids shouldn’t feel like there’s a “good guy” and “bad guy.”
It will sometimes take a lot of self-control not to express your frustration with your co-parent in the upcoming months and years. However, it’s important not to do it to or in front of your children.
If you feel like you need some help talking to your children or answering their questions about your breakup or they’re having issues dealing with it, your family law attorney can likely provide some excellent resources and recommend some local therapists.