It’s probably the most difficult conversation to have outside of deciding to go ahead with a divorce. No, it’s not telling your spouse. We’re talking about breaking the news to your children.

Kids thrive on routine and the comfort of having their family intact. It’s one of those basic needs they rely on for stability. The knowledge that you’re going to disrupt that feeling of security can cause couples to remain together long past the time they knew their marriage was over. However, telling your children that you’re getting divorced is better in the long run than having them witness the hostility or love loss between their parents, and growing up believing that is the model for a healthy relationship.

Talk to your kids now, not later

According to Dr. Alan Ravitz of the Child Mind Institute, your children understand more than they may let on. The longer you delay telling them you’re divorcing, the longer they’ll have to over-analyze the reasons for the split. If you and your spouse are not completely positive that your marriage is over, don’t needlessly upset the apple cart by explaining to your kids that you might break up. It can rock the stability of their home life for no reason.

When you do finally decide to tell your children, plan to do it at the right time that will be the least harmful to them. They need time to process what they’re being told and to talk things out with you so don’t tell them before bed or before a special occasion or holiday where other people will be around. Choose a quiet, private place at a time where your kids will feel safe to talk without feeling rushed.

What do we say?

Both of you are parents who love your children so you both should break the news to them together. There are pressing questions that will naturally concern your children. Be prepared to answer questions like:

  • Where will I live?
  • Where will my other parent live?
  • Will I be home when Mom/Dad moves out?
  • Am I going to have to move?
  • Why are you divorcing?

Be honest without imbedding details harmful to their relationship with either of you. In other words, don’t lay blame at either parent’s feet. If there has been infidelity in your marriage, it benefits no one to make it known to your children, and it could come back to bite you should there be a dispute over custody and visitation at some point.

Divorce is a difficult but temporary road to travel. You can ease the transition for your children by helping them to understand that they’re not losing a parent, they aren’t to blame, and they’re not being asked to choose sides so don’t place them into the position of feeling like they must.

Your children may react badly – and that’s okay

Just like you and your spouse have likely had some heated conversations, hurt feelings and raw emotions, your children are entitled to the same reaction. You’ve most likely had time to prepare for your marriage to end but your children haven’t. They’re going to grieve the loss of their family life as they know it and will need time to adjust. There may be anger, fear, and devastation but if you and your spouse approach the coming changes in a respectful and sensitive way with your kids, it can help them through it in time. Change can be scary for everyone involved, but understanding that it doesn’t have to be a bad thing will go a long way.

The hurt you and your spouse feel should not be used as a tool on your children to lash out at one another. You risk doing irreparable harm to them by involving them in the details of your split. Reinforce that you both love your kids and will be there for them.

Ending your marriage is not a one size fits all experience. If you are considering divorce, it can be handled in a respectful and caring manner by the compassionate divorce attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. To speak with one of our client-focused Bethesda family law attorneys, please call 443-917-3347, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact form.