Once you and your spouse decide to get divorced, you may struggle with how to tell your friends, family, and more importantly, your children. Below, we will discuss the best ways to approach telling your children about your divorce and the potential impact divorce can have on your children.
How Does Divorce Impact Your Children?
Divorce can affect the emotional wellbeing, sense of normalcy, and sense of control of both the divorcing couple and their children. For children, the emotional impact (and their understanding of the situation) is typically dependent on their age.
Young children that learn their parents are divorcing may struggle to:
- Understand why their parents no longer live or sleep together
- Accept that their parents love them (i.e. if their parents can stop loving each other, can their parents stop loving them?)
- Voice or process their emotions
- Understand the finality of the situation (and thus accepting that the changes are permanent)
Grade school children that learn their parents are divorcing may struggle with:
- Assigning blame on themselves or either parent
- Accepting the divorce is final (i.e. fantasizing about reconciliation)
- Developing healthy coping skills
- Falling or staying asleep
Teenagers that learn their parents are divorcing may struggle with:
- Feeling resentful towards or angry with one or both parents
- Accepting parental (or other) authority by acting out
- Feeling more irritable than normal
Adult children that learn their parents are divorcing may struggle:
- With their own marriage or relationships as their view of marriage, relationships, and normalcy has been shaken
- To maintain a relationship with both or either parent as they struggle with a wide range of emotions
- To set effective boundaries with their parents concerning communication and/or behaviors
It is important to remember that every child and situation is unique. Some children may struggle in a different way or, in some cases, feel relieved. Younger children’s feelings can also evolve as they develop and begin to understand the situation differently. How your child(ren) are impacted by and cope with your divorce begins with how you tell them you are filing for divorce.
Telling Your Minor Children About Divorce
Talking about your divorce can be challenging, especially if you are talking with your children. Here are some tips for talking with your minor children about divorce.
- Be sure you are both present for the conversation (if possible). You and the other parent should be together for this conversation, and you should try to agree on what you plan to share with the kids. Being a united front may be challenging if you are not on the best terms, but your children can benefit from seeing you together. If it is not possible for you both to be present, you should both still have the conversation in person and have an agreement on what you will discuss.
- Avoid fighting in front of your kids. Fighting can make the kids feel like they have to pick sides, and it can also add more tension and pain to an already difficult moment.
- Consider the timing of the conversation. While there is no perfect time, you should avoid telling them on a school day, before an important event, before bed, or during a time when you won’t have time to be together afterward.
- Avoid placing blame. If either of you places blame on the other, you risk your child alienating themselves from the party assigned blame; your child may also feel like they have to choose sides or punish one of the parents. It is also important you are clear your child is not to blame. Some children may believe their actions or behaviors led to your divorce, and without reassurance, they can become withdrawn or angry.
- Be open to answering their questions. While some children may need a moment to process, others may have a lot of questions. Be as open and honest as possible.
- Consider your children’s age. You should discuss the issue using age-appropriate terms.
- Explain what will change. While it is important to explain what won’t change (i.e. how much you love your child, that you’re a family, etc.), you should also prepare them for what will change. Is one parent moving out? How will their daily routine be impacted?
Your children may react in a variety of ways. You should expect the following emotional reactions.
- Anger. They may express anger or resentment as this is affecting their sense of normalcy and control. You can help them by listening and helping them find the proper way to work through their feelings.
- Anxiety. Because this is such a big change, they may feel anxious. This reaction can manifest in different ways depending on age (i.e. acting out, being more clingy, etc.). You can help by offering them comfort and constant reassurance.
- Sorrow. It’s natural to be upset or saddened by this news. You can help by helping them process their emotions healthily.
It may take a while for your children to cope with your divorce. However, you should watch out for the following red flags that may point to a more serious issue. If you notice any of these warning signs, you should discuss them with your child’s teachers, doctors, or coaches and consider consulting a child therapist.
- Sleep issues
- Inability to concentrate
- Behavior issues
- Drops in their grades
- Self-harm (i.e. cutting)
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Frequent emotional outbursts
- Withdrawal (from friends, family, or activities)
How Do You Tell Adult Children You’re Getting Divorced?
Some people believe that divorce is harder on adult children than on minor children. Even though they no longer live with you and have their own lives, your divorce can impact their childhood memories, sense of normalcy, and more. Here are some tips for telling your adult children that you plan to get divorced.
- Be sensitive to their feelings. When you inform them of the divorce, don’t throw out the good with the bad. You can be honest that the split is necessary and for the best, but don’t tarnish old memories or overshare. It is also important that you don’t constantly lean on them for support later on; they have their inner demons and emotional turmoil to work through. If you ignore their feelings or overshare your emotions, you may alienate them or foster feelings of resentment.
- Be honest about impending changes. Are you selling the family house? How are holidays going to be different? Who will they spend college breaks, summers, or birthdays with?
- Don’t ask them to choose sides. Not only will you alienate your child but you may risk dividing more of your family or friends (including grandchildren), and factions are more harmful than helpful.
If you are getting divorced, J. Roland Jeter, P.C. is equipped to help clients with uncontested or contest divorce cases and related family law matters (such as child custody, property division, or mediation). While you help your family navigate entering this new phase of life, Attorney Jeter can handle the case legalities.
To schedule a consultation, complete this online form or call (972) 330-4050.