A lot of parents don’t know how to navigate a conversation about their separation or divorce with their children. I want to share with you some rules and guidelines to use in your family.
What I have heard from clients about telling children about separating/divorce:
“We told our teenager on Monday that we are separating. I am uncertain how to have read the expression on her face…maybe slight shock, or disbelief. We have had so many years of conflict, it’s hard to believe she was surprised! This has really unseated me…we went shopping on Tuesday and had a nice day, really some great moments, bopping around looking for cool stuff. But there was a pallor that was present all day.”
“I want to be able to tell our child why this happened, so she understands, but I don’t want to play the blame game. I can’t be completely honest, and so I think she is confused…and I am getting so stressed.”
‘I don’t feel grounded when [my ex] is around, and I am sad and angry. Sad about all the losses, and also doing this to her [our child] when she is getting ready to go to college. Everyone is putting on their happy face but this is confusing.”
It’s always amazing to find out how much kids can be in their own heads, and not notice things going on around them. We can think they know/sense what is going on between the adults – but they often do not or they do not recognize yet what it is they are seeing.
Good rules to live by:
- Let the child ask the questions – don’t bring it up nor volunteer information, other than what is asked for. Be open and answer all your child’s questions while following the rest of these rules.
- Remember that – psychologically/unconsciously – children feel that they are half their mother and half their father, so that if someone says ‘your dad is lazy,’ they hear it as “half of me is lazy.” That can help to guide you to avoid the blame-game when answering their questions.
- Remind the child that she/he didn’t do anything to cause this. Because of the way our brain develops, it is important to reassure children that they are not to blame.
In my experience, children always know the truth of their parents’ divorce deep down. They know both of you, inside and out, and over the next 20 or so years she/he will ask more questions. Breathe. There is time.
Finding that balance between feeling you are being your authentic self and protecting the child can be challenging. Remember she/he doesn’t need (nor want) details that you might find important. It’s the end of a long relationship, and it’s very normal to have mixed and complicated feelings. For all of you. If you’re feeling sad – you’re allowed to tell your child that… But it is best to keep the complaining to your friends and your therapist – not to your kid.