Telling your kids that you and your spouse are breaking up is tough. Naturally enough, you're probably under a great deal of stress yourself, and your own feelings about the situation may be mixed, at best. You know that your kids won't be thrilled, and you may worry the situation could cause them long-term harm.
As we've discussed before, there's no reason to believe divorce automatically hurts kids. Every situation is different, and every child will react in his or her own unique way. There will certainly be stressful parts for everyone in your post-divorce life, but there will be positive outcomes, too.
There's no getting out of telling them. Here in Maryland, you typically have to physically live apart for a year before you can file for divorce, so change is coming. Luckily, parenting expert Alyson Schafer recently shared some tips on how to break the news gently. Here are some highlights:
- Wait until your separation plans are concrete plans so you can describe exactly what's going to happen.
- Pick a time when your kids aren't already keyed up -- not the night before an exam or summer camp.
- Tell your kids together, and stress that you've made the decision together. This can help your kids avoid divided loyalties.
- Discuss in advance how you'll handle the meeting. Agree not to point fingers or use the kids to manipulate each other. Don't tell them your personal business.
- Make absolutely sure they understand they haven't done anything wrong and are not responsible for the break-up. Emphasize that you both still love them and you always will.
- Help them see that even if it feels their world is utterly changing, the fundamentals of their lives remain intact.
- Make a point of being available to answer their questions and give reassurance for a while -- it takes kids time to process.
- Share the news with key people like their best friends' parents and their teachers so your kids don't have to.
It all comes back to your specific situation and your individual kids, of course. Some kids cry; others rage or act out. Some kids are happy things are changing; others pretend to be. Keep a close eye out for signs of problems that require professional help. Finally, take care of yourself. Give and get lots of hugs and kisses.