Many people know my story: my parents divorced when I was barely two-years-old. As I grew up my mom married and divorced two more times. Every grandparent, aunt, and uncle in my family was divorced. In fact, “divorce” was as common a word in my childhood as “white bread” and “milk.”
How you tell your child you are divorcing will shape their view of marriage, divorce, and their relationship with you and your spouse for years to come.
Last week we discussed four vital things every parent needs to know before telling their child they are separating. Today we will take that conversation one step further . . . how to tell your child you are divorcing.
1. Start by revisiting your last discussion regarding the separation (if you had that discussion).
Revisit the plan you discussed. Then, whether or not you ever separated, give your child a brief, age-appropriate overview of the problem in the marriage. If you don’t give your child a reason, they will invent one—one that usually revolves around them. So be honest. Explain to him that none of this is his fault or a result of anything that he did or said.
2. Use the band-aid effect. Sometimes parents try to tiptoe around the issue and avoid using the word “divorce” as long as possible when talking to their child. They try to sugarcoat the issue and coddle their child.
Your child is smart. Better for you to own the word “divorce” than to make your child guess where the discussion is going. Be the adult. Rip off the band-aid and announce that you are getting a divorce before they have a chance to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
3. Clearly outline the expectations. Explain to your child what the living arrangements will be, the visitation schedule, etc. Try to keep as much normalcy in your child’s routine as possible: his same house, same school, activities, etc.
Try to give him some input. This gets tricky when courts are involved, but if you have some freedom here, ask your son, “Would you rather spend the night at Daddy’s on Tuesday or Wednesday nights?” By giving your child a little bit of power, you will have a lot more buy in from him.
Also, try to post the new routine somewhere visible, like on the refrigerator. This way your child sees on what days he will spend time with which parent. Children crave predictability and stability. The more you incorporate that into your new family structure, the better.
4. Leave room for questions. Every child reacts differently upon hearing her parents are divorcing. Some children cry, some yell, some withdraw. No matter your child’s reaction, give her the opportunity to ask questions right away, later that day, later that week, and periodically as you settle into your new life.
Just as I mentioned last week, you might consider taking your child to a counselor, or attending family counseling with your child. Sometimes even just a few sessions can bring healing to a hurting heart.
“Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
~ Ephesians 4:2, NIV
Elizabeth Oates is a wife, mother of three, and an author, blogger, and speaker who encourages, inspires, and equips a new generation of women seeking a deeper relationship with Christ. She is a cliché Generation Xer from a broken home who once searched for purpose and significance apart from Jesus Christ. Today she devotes her life to spreading the message that we are not defined by our past; our God is bigger than our broken family trees and stronger than the sins that weigh us down. She graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and co-founded Project Restoration Ministry. To learn more about Elizabeth or receive her weekly blog, please visit ElizabethOates.com