Now that you’ve decided to get a divorce, it’s time to tell your kids. Keep in mind: small children are at a developmental stage when they need object constancy. They need to know that even though you aren’t with them everyday, you are still their parent, and they are going to see you on a regular basis. Although you’re faced with a conversation no parent wants to have, there are things you can do to provide reassurance and answer your child’s questions in a developmentally appropriate way.
Rehearse. If you and your spouse are going to sit down with your kids together, you must present the decision to divorce as a united front. If you cannot be in the same room due to hostility or the other person being unavailable, then practice what to say on your own.
Be calm. What you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. If you cry or are visibly angry, your children will feel alarmed and they may think they have to take care of you. This is your opportunity to model ways to handle an adverse situation and give your kids the sense that they can weather hard times too.
Show discretion. Don’t share too many details of what led to the divorce. Example: “Mommy and Daddy tried very hard to fix their problems and we couldn’t so we have decided we can’t be married anymore. This is a grown-up problem and it’s not your job to fix it.”
Maintain an open dialogue. Reassure your kids that it’s okay to ask questions. Small children will ask many questions – often the same ones over and over — as they try to make sense of all the changes in their world or your new parenting time plan. Some kids may initially appear to have no reaction, but will have questions later as the fact of your divorce begins to sink in.
When you rehearse what you’re going to say to your kids, it’s helpful to prepare answers to some common questions.
Q: Who will read me a bedtime story?
A: It’s important for your child to maintain his rituals as this will help him feel secure. “Mommy will read you your bedtime story when you’re at her house and Daddy will read you your bedtime story when you’re at his house.”
Q: Will I get a new mommy or daddy?
A: Even if one parent is in a new relationship, children need to know that no one will replace either parent. “We will always be your mommy and daddy. If either of us gets married to someone else, that person will be another person who loves you, but will never take the place of Mommy or Daddy.”
Q: What if I miss you when I am with Mommy or Daddy?
A: It’s scary for kids not to know when they’re going to see you. If you’ve worked out a visitation schedule, let them know what days they will be with either parent. “It’s normal to miss Mommy when you’re with Daddy and Daddy when you’re with Mommy. We’re going to hang a calendar in your room so you can see for yourself which days you’ll be with each of us. It’s okay to say you miss us. When you’re with Daddy, Mommy will call you at 7:30 to say goodnight, and Daddy will do the same.”
Q: Who will watch my soccer practice?
A: “At least one of us will be at your practice. Daddy will still be the coach and Mommy will still bring the snacks.”
Q: Does Mommy/Daddy not love me anymore?
A: Little kids see themselves as the center of the universe: if Daddy is divorcing Mommy, he must be divorcing them too. “The divorce is just between Mommy and Daddy and has nothing to do with you. Daddy and I will always love you and both of us will continue to take care of you.”
Q: Are you both going to be at my birthday party? Who do I spend Christmas with?
A: “You will celebrate special occasions with both of us. We will both be at your birthday party. You will spend Christmas morning with Mommy and Christmas evening with Daddy.”
Q: Do I get to keep the dog?
A: “Yes, you will get to keep Daisy. Daisy will live with Daddy and you will see Daisy on the days you’re with Daddy.”
Q: Where will I sleep?
A: “You will have the same bedroom and the same bed at Mommy’s. You will have a new bed and a new bedroom at Daddy’s.”
Remember: no matter what question your child asks, she really wants to be reassured that you will always be her parent and you will still take care of her.
How can you best smooth the divorce transition for your children? For assistance with child custody and child support issues, and all other matters related to divorce, our attorneys are here to help. Please contact us to schedule your free initial consultation.