Ending a marriage is always painful. Psychiatrists list divorce as one of life’s most stressful experiences. Perhaps your children already see the breakup coming, having heard the arguments, sensed the tension, or even witnessed a parent moving out of the house. But even if you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse are handling the separation calmly and rationally, the moment you break the news to your child is a moment he’ll remember forever.
Though there is no easy way to have this conversation, consider these strategies to help ease your child’s worst fears.
Find Common Ground
Separations are wrought and emotionally turbulent, but both parents should make a herculean effort to have a calm, private conversation about how to break the news to the children before that conversation occurs. Agree to some basic ground rules that will keep children above the emotional turmoil, such as avoiding fighting in front of the kids, blaming each other for the separation, and forcing kids to choose between parents. Breaking the news together is ideal, but parents should at least mutually agree on how to approach the issue. Presenting a united front in the face of great changes helps ease a child’s fears that one parent will no longer be around to love him.
Practice, Practice, Practice
This conversation is about the child, not the divorce. Directly address your child’s greatest fears by emphasizing that the separation is not his fault, that he will not be abandoned, and that both parents still love him. Choosing neutral rather than charged language is critical. Make an effort to keep strong emotion in check so that the conversation doesn’t dissolve into accusations or extreme distress. Consider writing out what you wish to say and revise until you find the best and most appropriate expression.
Choose The Time Wisely
Inevitably a child will ask “Is Daddy leaving us, Mommy?” just as you’re rushing them off to school. Putting them off with a gentle version of the truth such as “Daddy and I just had a disagreement and now we’re taking a time-out” may be a wiser choice than blurting the news of the divorce. To many children, their parent’s separation will seem like the end of the world. It’s a conversation best scheduled when there’ll be time to deal with the immediate emotional aftermath.
Expect The Unexpected
Some younger children may hear the news and worry most that their Saturday sleepover will be canceled. Others may scream obscenities and slam doors. Nurturing your child through the pain of divorce is an ongoing process,so prepare yourself for further discussions. If emotional issues escalate over time, never hesitate to seek professional help.