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Six Keys to Talking to Children About Divorce

How do you explain separation or divorce to children?

Talking to children about divorce is always difficult even under the best of circumstances. So how do you handle it when your angry, hurt, or feeling betrayed? You may have every right in the world to be angry at your spouse, but it is essential for the well being of your children that you set that aside when explaining separation and divorce to them.

As a Raleigh Divorce Lawyer for over fourteen years, I have seen many good people make terrible decisions because they could not control their anger or get control of their emotions around their kids.

Six Keys To Talking To Children About Divorce

  1. EYES ON THE PRIZE. Your job as a parent is protect your children and instill them with a sense of confidence and security. This is your first priority in the world. The best way for a child to feel safe and secure is to have a loving, consistent and respectful relationship with each of their parents. Think about what you wanted from your own parents.

    Avoid Being Negative About Your Spouse

    Trashing your spouse, even if your being "truthful" or they deserve it, actually harms your children and takes a terrible toll on their psyche. Children need to feel loved, protected, and have a strong connection with each parent. If your child knows what you think of the other parent, or hears accusations about the other parent, it makes it very hard if not impossible to seek what they need for both parents. They will also feel like they are betraying you by not being angry or at least acting that way towards the other parent. They will begin to feel guilty and confused regardless of how they handles things. Throw in the changed living arrangements and family stress into the mix and you will see why children of divorce have such a higher risk of drug use, depression, and crime.

    If you have been wronged in some horrible way by your spouse, or perhaps they left you for someone else, it can very hard to avoid answering the children directly when they ask "why" you are separating. 

    Consider holding back and refusing to assign blame as one of the greatest sacrifices you will ever make for your children. Ultimately your children will judge you rightly or wrongly by what kind of parent you are and not on why you divorced.

  2. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME and HAVE THE TALK TOGETHER. Think about what will be asked and how to answer before you begin the conversation. Try very hard to have this conversation with the other parent and present a united front. Spend most of your time reassuring, explaining the practical issues like living arrangements and so forth, and above all stress how much you both love and care for them everything is going to be ok. If you choose to have this conversation without the other parent, avoid having Mom, Sis or any other family busy body take part. It is fine to lean on friends and family for support, but this is about you and the kids and you do not need to have to deal with variables thrown in by well meaning relatives or friends.
  3. TAKE A DEEP BREATH BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Whenever you are upset at your spouse or are put on the spot with a tough question, take a deep breath and relax for a moment before you answer. Think about what your child needs versus what you want to say. Speaking out of anger or off the cuff is usually a mistake. Remember what your children need versus what you want to say.
  4. AVOID SINNER v. SAINT. Is your spouse horrible in every way? Are you perfect, or close to it? Really? If you answered yes, why on earth did you choose to have a child with this horrible monster? What kind of person would choose to procreate with a such a loser and force their own child to be co-parented by such an evil person? Tough stuff I know, but the point is to move beyond who did what to whom when you are dealing with children. There are good qualities in this person you chose to create a family with, and try to focus on those when talking to your kids. If all you can think about is how badly victimized you were, it will come through to your children. You may not believe it right now, but if you want the best for your child, that child needs to have love and respect for both parents.
  5. YOU DO NOT OWE CHILDREN THE "TRUTH". I cannot count how many times I have heard a client use this excuse to explain why they told their child some horrific detail about the other party. "I am not going to lie to them," they tell me. Oh really? Did you also tell them about your past drug experimentation, cheating on tests in school, the fling you had at work a few years ago, who you were talking to on the phone so much when your spouse was at work, or that night at the Christmas party when you started acting so "silly"? Did you tell them that "yeah, I really do like your little sister better, Oh and in conclusion, there is no Santa Claus, and I find myself incredibly attracted to your science teacher?"

    You Aren't Lying to Your ChildrenHarsh again I know, but the point is that the brutal honesty policy is and always will be a self serving sham when it comes to children so let's not use it as an excuse to unload dirt that just so happens to fall on the other guy.

    You owe your kids a lot more than carefully selected and self serving "truth." Some things are personal and none of your child's business.

  6. ANSWERING TOUGH QUESTIONS: This is where you earn your pay as a parent. How do you answer that why question we touched on earlier if it makes the other parent look bad? Should you lie? Be the Adult My opinion is that you should avoid lying, but recognize that you are the adult, and the details of your marriage are not only off limits to your children, you have no obligation to share them with anyone.

    Children Do Not Need to Know Adult Problems

    Set the rule early that what happens between a married couple is private between the couple, and is never to be shared. If you make this clear, and stick with it, they will eventually respect it. Your children are not entitled to hear that infidelity or finances, or boredom, or emotional affairs have led to the break up of your marriage.

    Not only are they not entitled, they shouldn't.

    Speak in general terms about why people divorce sometimes and point out some examples of people they know who look to them to be OK. Remember, you are comforting them, not commiserating with them.

    Be Honest with Yourself

    It is also time to recognize that there are many reasons marriages fail, and it is the very rare marriage indeed where you both can look to the actions of one party and honestly say, yes that is the reason we are divorcing. Even in cases of infidelity its not always so cut and dry. Infidelity may justify divorce for some people, but there may have been inappropriate behavior on the part of both parties prior to an act of infidelity.

    Additionally, if the unfaithful party asks for forgiveness and does not want a divorce, then is the infidelity the real reason you are divorcing, or is it the offended parties inability to forgive their spouse?

    The same principal can be applied to any "why" answer for divorce.

    No Perfect Answer
    Unfortunately, I cannot leave you with that perfect, canned answer to take with you. I wish I could. Just do the very best you can to remember what your priority is and what it should be.  

    If you can keep your eyes truly on the goal of protecting your kids and making their lives as happy as possible, your going to handle things just fine.

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