Take Control Blog

Children and Divorce — Breaking the News

It’s never easy to talk to the kids about divorce, whether they are still young or already out of the house.  But addressing the painful issue may be different depending on their ages.

They will all have some commonalities, naturally.  It is common for children all ages to mourn the loss of their parents as a unit.  It is natural for them to wonder what this means in their day-to-day lives and to their quality of life. But if old enough – usually past age 5 or 6 — children may sometimes feel culpable for their parents’ breakup and parents will do well to tell their kids repeatedly that they are not the reason the marriage ended.

There are differing opinions on whether to tell the children together or separately about the divorce, but most experts agree that if the parents can tolerate one another enough to be civil for an hour, they should tell their children about the divorce together.

You’re Still a Family

“This often softens the blow,” says Dr. Howard Chusid, a licensed mental health counselor and certified family mediator.  “It also shows them that you are both still united when it comes to loving them and providing for them.  That you are still a family.”

This may be harder to do than you might think.  Your children could become emotional. Prepare to have them plead with you to change your minds.  And be prepared to tell them that is no longer an option.

But other than keeping them informed, parents should commit to keeping children, whatever their age, out of the divorce process.  They certainly should not be used or controlled by one parent against another.  That is not only damaging to the child but could also hurt the controlling parent’s case for custody or visitation.  The parent with custody throughout the proceedings needs to make sure that access is provided to the other parent.  Experts agree that it is very destructive to a child to suddenly have zero contact with one parent.

Keep the Dirty Details to Yourselves

Even adult children out of the home already do not need to hear all the dirty details.  It may suffice to say that mom and dad have unresolvable differences, which have nothing to do with them, which reinforces the message that they are not to blame.

What, then, do you say?

“You tell them that you love them and that you are still there for them no matter what.  That the divorce does not have to change your relationship with them.  You constantly reinforce the message that this is an issue between the adults that is no fault of theirs, and that you can still be a family, albeit in a different way,” says Dr. Chusid.

Get Ready for a Gamut of Feelings

“Children will go through a series of feelings: sadness, frustration, anger.  Sometimes, pre-teen or teenage children will lash out at both parents with the silent treatment or act out with erratic behavior.  It is important to maintain united discipline by both parents,” says Dr. Chusid.

If she or he won’t talk to you, encourage your angry child to talk to a relative, teacher, family friend or even a professional counselor.  In addition to providing a space for your child to vent his or her feelings, you show your child that you care about those feelings and value them.

Parents must stay united if a child lashes out at one parent only.  Because today it’s him, but tomorrow it could be you.

According to Dr. Chusid, as difficult as it may sound, each parent has to make an effort to support and encourage the other’s relationship with the kids.

Co-parenting Begins with Communication

Because, in case nobody has told you this yet, the divorce isn’t the end of the relationship between you and your spouse when you have kids.  The divorce is the end of one relationship and the beginning of another, which is solely as co-parents.  And just because you screwed one up, it doesn’t mean you have to mess up the other.

In other words, talking about your divorce with your children is something that may never end.  It is something that just evolves over time as your children grow and your lives continue together.  You may remarry.  Both parents will be invited to their weddings and share the birthdays of grandchildren.

By establishing an open door policy and keeping lines of communication open, you can easily slide into a comfortable dialogue that becomes part of your language and helps you not only understand each other, but thrive together in your new lives.