One of the harder parts of divorce is telling your children that it’s happening. You’re probably struggling to process the divorce yourself. Your kids are also going to struggle to process it. But unlike you, they don’t get to make any of the decisions or have any control over the process. You can make it easier on them by telling them in a thoughtful way and supporting them through the process.
Two of the more common questions that we hear from our clients when they are getting divorced are:
- When should we tell our kids that we are getting divorced?
- How should we tell our kids that we are getting divorced?
I recommend a sooner rather than later approach. This allows your children to start processing earlier and understand what’s going to happen—hopefully before you make any major changes to their lives. It also takes the pressure of keeping the secret off you. We have found that most people get a feeling of relief from telling their children.
Once you’ve decided when to tell your children, you have to tackle the question of how. This question is a little trickier. I’d love to say that there is a set blueprint for this sort of thing… but there isn’t. There are a few factors you need to think about.
If you are getting divorced in Georgia and you have children, preparing is important. To help you out, I have put together some advice to guide you in this hard conversation.
No matter your circumstances there are certain ground rules you must follow. These are:
- No bad guys. Your partner may have had an affair or caused financial problems for your family. They may be wholly responsible, but in this conversation they are not the bad guy.
- No one is at fault. This goes for you, your spouse, and your children. I will talk about more this later on.
- No bad blood. You might hate your spouse, but in front of your kids, you get along great. This conversation is going to be hard enough—don’t put your kids in the middle.
- Put on your brave face. Again, for the sake of your children you need to be strong and put how they feel first. Don’t let your kids end up comforting you.
With the ground rules out of the way, here is my advice for this divorce top question: “How do we tell our kids that we are getting divorced”.
Plan what you’re going to say
This is a case of “fail to plan and plan to fail”. This conversation with your children is not going to be the easiest chat of your life. And in the emotion and tears, you may get flustered in what you are trying to say. But if you go in with a checklist of points, then you can get back on track.
Approach this as a family
This conversation is about restructuring the family, but right now you are still one unit. You need to approach this conversation with your spouse. You both need to be there to explain the situation. To tell your children that they are still loved by both of you and that you will both still be there.
The best approach is also to speak to all your children at the same time. This stops the rumour mill, ensures all the kids get the same information, and makes it easier on you too. Having the same conversation 2, 3, maybe even 4 times will be hard on you.
If all your children are there then they can support one another and hear the other questions being asked.
You will need to speak to all your children alone too, so make sure to follow up with each of them afterward. They may have questions that they don’t want to ask in front of the older/younger siblings. So make it a priority to let your kids speak to you afterward.
It is not your child’s fault
Let me repeat that: It is not your child’s fault.
It may seem obvious to you that it is not their fault. Of course they didn’t cause the breakup of your marriage! But it might not be obvious to them. Children process things differently than adults. They can internalize the divorce and try to fix it.
Children don’t understand the complexities of marriage. They don’t know the many reasons a marriage might not work out. When they’ve faced problems before, they turned to you to fix them. So when you are facing a problem and they can’t turn to you to fix it, they sometimes turn to themselves.
You need to emphasize that they are not at fault. You need to make sure that they understand that they are not responsible for the divorce. The decision to get divorced has nothing to do with them. There is nothing that they did to make it happen. Nor is there anything that can do to make the situation better or worse.
Younger children especially can have the mentality that “Mommy/Daddy left home because they wanted to leave me”. You need to nip this in the bud. You know your kids are not at fault here. They need to know this too.
Keep bribery off the table
It’s tempting to try to divert your child’s emotions by offering to buy them a new Xbox. It might make the next few months easier for you, but the current conversation, and those to come, are about what is best for your kids.
We all know this conversation is hard… but giving your child an excuse to sit in their room and play Fortnite is not going to help here. You all need to deal with your emotions and face the situation, not hide away.
Bribing your children can almost incentivize them to not look after themselves. It can also stop your kids from dealing with their emotions in the future too.
It is healthy for your children to embrace how they are feeling. They need to process their sad feelings so they can get back to being happy. Bribing them to keep calm and stay quiet is going to harm them in the long run.
Explain what is going to happen next
Explain the next steps in an easy to understand way. Depending on your child’s age, it could be saying something like:
“We are still one family except we live in two places” to younger children
“You will spend weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other parent so you will still see us both” to your 16 year old.
If you don’t know the custody schedule yet, that is okay. Tell your kids the adults are working on figuring it out and will update them once they have a schedule. Reassure them that no matter what the schedule is, they will still see both parents.
If you and your spouse have not yet agreed on custody, do not attempt to tell your kids the custody schedule in this conversation. Telling them the custody schedule you prefer in order to gain leverage in negotiations is highly manipulative. Trying to tell them the custody schedule without having an agreement is likely to start a fight with your spouse. Table the custody conversation until later.
Whatever the schedule ends up being, reassure your kids that it doesn’t change how much both parents love them. This is especially important if one parent has primary custody and the kids will see the other parent less.
If you need help around how to explain co-parenting, I have previously written a blog post about this. It explains the different 50/50 custody strategies available (including great ones like the 2-2-5-5 strategy).
If you need help figuring out your child custody, please book a Legal Clarity Session with me. We will discuss your options and provide you with first-class service from a leading family law firm in Georgia.
If you are in need of a divorce attorney who will provide a world class service, and guide you through this process with as little stress and worry as possible, then click here to head over to our contact page and get in touch with Max, the founder of Porchlight, today.
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Your child may not have any questions right now, but that’s okay. Still, allow them to ask any questions that they might have. You’ve given them a lot to digest and so the questions that they ask may not seem relevant to you. But if they do ask questions then they have some meaning to your child.
Be honest but remember to stick to the ground rules and keep things age appropriate. If your kids want to know why you are getting divorced, they do not need all the nitty gritty details. Keep it high level: you aren’t the best match for each other and will be happier apart. Let both parents answer questions too. Don’t dominate the conversation.
Keep the dialogue open
Your child may need a bit of time to digest the circumstances and think it through. This counts doubly so for older children. Give them the chance to ask you questions in the next couple of days, weeks, or months.
Let them know this is an ongoing conversation and they can talk to you about it at any time.
Remind them that you are there to answer any questions that they may have, no matter how hard or personal. You are going through this divorce as a family.
Next steps if you are getting divorced in Georgia
Take a breath. One of the hardest conversations you will have throughout your divorce is over.
Next up is to start moving the process forward. You’ll need to find a quality attorney. Someone who will look at the journey and not just the end result. An attorney who knows and understands the impact of divorce on children and how to ease this process.
Here at Porchlight, we do things differently. We do not believe that divorce has to be a stressful and upsetting time. We work to provide first-class service that guides you through the process and helps you to start your post-divorce life.
If you are getting divorced, then please get in touch with Max, the founder of Porchlight. Complete the contact form on our contact page to schedule a Legal Clarity Session. From there, we can help to connect you with the perfect team to bring you through the divorce and into your new life. We make the legal process easy, so you can focus on moving positively into your future.
You can always call 678-435-9069 and speak to us today about your situation.