To children, family is the center of their lives. Every child wants and wishes that their family stay a cohesive unit; but often times, the case remains that couples fall out of love. Whether the separation stems from a lack of mutual love, or problems elsewhere, most children will hold onto the hope that parents will reconcile and remarry. A divorce can easily get nasty, but when kids are involved, it's important to be thoughtful and honest. Couples who can put aside their differences and their egos for the sake of their children are dynamite parents... remember this even when times seem the most troubling!
Don't wing it. This may sound intuitive, but it will take stress off of your shoulders if you have a thought-out plan. Anticipate questions that may come your way. Ideally, the parents should approach all of this together. Talking with the kids and answering questions together will show them that, even though you aren't going to be a couple anymore, you will always be their parents. If you work as a team in this effort, it will be easier to instill in your children that it is not their fault. At this point, everything really is about them, so assure them that it is not their fault, that you both love them and there is nothing they need to change about themselves.
Keep it simple. Be ready to divulge the truth in a kid-friendly and age-appropriate way. You want to minimize the damage this divorce will have on your children, so it may not be necessary for them to know that one spouse is a cheater. Your kids need to know simple facts: that it's hard for you both to get along and need to separate for adult reasons. The reasons for divorce have nothing to do with them, so sifting through those very reasons for their sake is probably a good idea. Don't lie to them. Always be honest, but protect them as much as possible.
Don't play the blame game. You may have very justifiable reasons for bad mouthing your spouse, but it will never help in the end. Adult problems are just that and should not be inflicted on the children. Regardless of your personal feelings (which do matter), a parent is a parent and children shouldn't be forced to make character evaluations.
Have multiple follow-up discussions. Again, this is all an effort to make sure the kids know that the divorce is not their fault. Discuss all different aspects of the pending changes, and always let them know that everyone will be working together to make it as smooth as possible. Children take cues from their parents and look to them for mature guidance. No matter what the age of the kids, it is easy to feel unsure and unsafe when a lot of change is taking place. Reinforce that no matter what changes lay ahead, love will always be present. Both parents will still be in the lives of the children.
Empathize with them. Let your kids know that their grief, anger and fear is understandable. Tune in to your children: what they're saying, how they're acting, etc. Dr. Fran Walfish, leading couple and family psychologist in Beverly Hills, California, said to, "encourage open and direct expression of these feelings. Moms, don't be afraid of her anger. The more comfortable you become with her verbalizing anger the more validated and accepted she will feel — flaws and all." Any expression of these feelings can be healthy: keeping a journal, talking to an extended family member, or reading books.
There is a ton of support to turn to before the "divorce talk" even begins. Seek the advice of a mediator, divorce mentor, or family psychologist. Divorce is not a death sentence for your family. Change lay ahead, but with your strength and compassion, the whole family can move forward as the unit it will always be.
Need more help in navigating your child through these changes? Check out some books that explain divorce to kids.
Make sure to read through our other family table posts: Talking About Death, Talking About Moving, and Talking About a New Sibling!