There are many gut-wrenching stories that clients recount of telling their kids that it is “over” between mommy and daddy. They usually involve calculated timing by the parents, a scripted statement explaining why it happened and a sketch of what is going to happen to the family in the future. Since I’ve never done it myself, I conceive of it as worse than breaking up with a lover or firing an employee—mainly because the recipient of this pain, this rejection, is a child.
While I am not a mental health expert, I would caution divorcing parents to be very careful with how they talk to their children about the “D” word. You might be sick and tired of your spouse, but you will be co-parents after the divorce. For the sake of your children: work together to share the news of your divorce with your children.
As we adults know, the way that a message is packaged sets the trajectory for how that message is received. So consider the following prior to blurting out, “your Dad is leaving Mom and is going to live with his $#%&-ing girlfriend.”
The following ten items outline a course for telling the kids in the least painful way possible:
BEFORE you break the news…
1. Consult a child or family therapist together with your soon-to-be-ex to process the messaging.
2. Write a script for the conversation with your child(ren).
3. Pick a time and place that is safe and that does not involve friends or relatives. Avoid conflict with important dates or deadlines i.e., child’s birthday or right before a big test.
DURING your discussion …
4. In your discussion, focus on the positives of how the child has two people who love her so much that they both want special time with her.
5. Focus on how things at home are going to stay as similar as possible to pre-separation.
6. Tell the child that it is not their fault – that mommy and daddy are just their best selves in two different houses, and that this will be the best way for them to do the best job loving her.
7. Do not blame. Make it appear as a joint decision.
8. Expect tears. You are not being mean — you are not kicking a puppy. Rather, you are being honest and honesty sometimes hurts- a lot.
AFTER the discussion…
9. Expect more questions after your initial announcement. Answer them honestly but while considering the advice above (especially number 6 and number 7).
10. Avoid creating a sense of abandonment — try staying in the same home (if at all possible) the night or day you tell your child.
Above all, put your child first.
As I wrote in a previous blog, you can love your kids or hate your spouse …. but you cannot do both.
The Law Office of Natalie Gregg
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