I recently read that the beginning of the year is the most common time to file for divorce. That means that more than a few couples are sitting their kids down right about now, telling them that by next year, Mommy and Daddy won't be in the same house for Christmas. I've had to break the news to my kids that my partner and I are splitting up more than once. It's not easy, but it has to be done.
Here are a few things I've learned in the process:
Don't assume your children are clueless. Kids have a fantastic radar, and they pick up on very subtle changes in the air. The slightest tension, a snippy comment, a sharp glance or a look of sadness or defeat — small people see it all. In fact, many kids know that a family relationship is on the rocks long before parents realize it themselves.
Be honest with your children. Don't lay blame on your partner and don't air your dirty laundry. This does nothing to help the situation. The real reason you're splitting up with your partner is because the relationship isn't working well. It isn't a healthy one. Period. The discussion is about where everything goes from here, not about venting your emotions.
Be positive. Keep vicious words, bitter accusations, a sniping tone and negative words out of the conversation. The discussion isn't about your feelings, so put them aside. Your children love your partner — no matter how much damage the person caused. Put a positive spin on a bad situation. Rein in your emotions and focus on reassuring your child with a good attitude, a smile, and lots of love.
Be informative. Humans fear the unknown. You're probably a little afraid and worried over what is to come. Your children are terrified. They don't have the ability to foresee events, and they don't know the resources available. Inform your children about upcoming changes and those beyond the immediate ones. Talk about where you'll live, how daily life will change, exactly what will change and what won't.
Censor your words. Keep the information age-relative. Your children don't need to know the details of financial situations down to the last penny. They need to know that yes, there will be food, shelter, and love. They don't need to know the hardships of changing schools and coping with not knowing anyone in the neighbourhood, unless they ask. They need to know they'll be making new friends and have the opportunity for new activities.
Answer questions. Dodging tough questions is a sure way to create suspicion. If your child asks a question, address it and answer it, no matter how difficult. When you do answer, be honest and reassure your child. If you don't know the answer, it's okay to say, "I don't know." Don't forget to add, "But I'll find out and let you know."
Allow your children a voice. Ask your children if they have any questions or suggestions for the new life coming up. They may want to keep their current life and have no changes. Gently but firmly tell them that isn't possible, but that they do have the opportunity to make requests. Consider those requests, too.
Let your children express their emotions. Their feelings may range from deep sadness to fury and anything in between. Don't try to distract children from tears or convince them they shouldn't feel angry — especially if they're angry with you. Let them grieve in their own way.
Don't be afraid. You won't lose your children's love. Do the best you can to break the news gently, reassure your children of the upcoming changes, and remember that this too, shall pass.
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