Although going through a divorce is going to be difficult on every member of your family, it's very common for your children to take the news the hardest and to need the most time to come to grips with the reality of what is happening. While there is likely nothing that you can do to make things seem totally ‘okay' or normal during a divorce, there are strategies you can use when explaining the situation to your children to make this whole process seem less daunting and catastrophic in their minds. Every family is different and every child is different, there is no ‘right way' to talk to your children about your divorce, but there are things to keep in mind when approaching this emotional subject.
Keep it Simple and Factual
Whether your child is a toddler or in high school, keep your communication simple and straightforward. They do not need to be dragged through the mud on all of the details leading up to your divorce. Tell them the information that they need to know and that is relevant to them, don't give them the entire backstory of how your marriage deteriorated over time and finally needs to be severed. This can make them feel as if they played a role in the splitting up of their parents, when in reality this is between you and your spouse.
Be Unified in Your Approach
If possible, discuss your divorce with your ex-spouse physically present. This will present a unified front to your children and show them that although things will be changing, you are both still there, are still their parents, and can still make and follow-through on decisions together. Even if this time, that decision is to go your own separate ways. It's important to act and present yourselves like the responsible, capable adults that you were before the split in order to reaffirm to your children that their reality hasn't been turned upside down, this is just another decision that their parents have made together after much consideration.
Encourage Your Children to Share Their Feelings
While yes, you are the one bringing new and consequential information to the table, you shouldn't be doing all of the talking when explaining this situation to your children. Your children will likely have a lot of questions as well as initial reactions, listen to these and reassure them that it is okay to feel the way they currently do. Be supportive and assure them that you are going to get through this together, even if you are your ex-spouse are no longer together, you're still a family. Be willing to accept their anger towards you, it's important that they can safely be angry. You are causing substantial upheaval - own it.
Explain to Them That This is for the Best
Impress upon them the deliberation it took to reach this decision with your ex. Reassure them that this isn't some crazy emotional reaction to a fight that the two of you had. They need to know that your head is still on straight and that you are still acting as the responsible leader of their family. They've almost certainly witnessed you and your ex argue, likely more than once, they are aware of the tension. Explain to them that with this divorce will come a new chapter of your lives together, without the tense home atmosphere and the fighting – a more peaceful home life that everyone will benefit from. Also impress upon them that they were a huge part of your decision and that you aren't trying to hinder or hurt them with this decision. You've weighed the options and come to the conclusion that this is the right thing to do for your family as a whole.
Although a lot will be changing, you are both still their parents and love them and that will never change, make sure they know that. This can be a scary time for children and it can feel like the world as they know it is gone for good, reassure them that this is not the case and that in the end, things will be alright and they will be alright.
Our attorneys regularly speak on family law and parenting plan matters. Elise has extensive experience in high-conflict parenting disputes. If you have any questions about Washington state divorce law, mediation or child custody, please contact us at [email protected] or 206-926-9848.