It’s an unfortunate truth in society today: half of all children will go through the break-up of their family, and their parent’s divorce. Though it’s obviously not God’s ideal, it does happen, and needs to be approached with grace from those on the outside, as well as those on the inside. One of the biggest mistakes parents make while going through a divorce is leaving their child out of the conversation. They have suffered a loss as well, are grieving as well, and need someone to work through it with them.
So, how do you talk to your child about your divorce?
Bring it up
They need to talk about it. But, your children will never be the first to bring it up. They are aware of the pain that surrounds the situation and are putting on a brave face for the simple fact that they love you. As a parent, it’s your job to discuss the tough issues no matter how difficult. So, bring it up. Ask how they feel about it. Continue with questions until the conversation is exhausted, paying attention to body language that might suggest they are hiding how they truly feel. They need to get it off of their chest.
Let them ask the questions
Don’t limit them during the discussion. No matter their age, they have a right to understand as much as they want to. They have been hurt, and deserve to have their questions answered if at all possible. If there are tough reasons behind the end of your marriage, be prepared to give a thoughtful answer that is at their level of understanding. Showing them that they have a right to ask about it will alleviate fear and anxiety, and make them see that their feelings matter.
There’s nothing wrong with showing weakness to your child. If you are in pain, it’s okay to express that. The entire family is going through a huge loss. Don’t pretend to have it all together if you are struggling, while keeping in mind that your child is not your therapist. It’s fine to tell your child that you are sad about the divorce, that you wish things had happened differently, and any other things you may be feeling that could build a common bond between you, as you grieve this loss together.
Be Ready to Apologize
Regardless of the reasons for your divorce, your children have been hurt through no fault of their own. And like any situation where we are hurt by someone, regardless of whether the hurt was intended or not, an apology can begin the healing process. Apologize to your child for the situation they find themselves in and encourage them to express their anger or fear over being hurt.
Don’t make life decisions moving forward that completely exclude your child. Of course, you are the parent and will have the ultimate decision in where you now live, if you move onto another relationship, etc. But, give your child a voice. Ask how they feel and what they think about any plans moving forward that mean changes for them. Even if you can’t fix their feelings, the fact that you respect them will go a long way.
While talking to your child about your divorce is never easy, it can be a bonding moment in which you begin to express your shared grief, open up your hearts to each other, and build understanding. Your child was an integral part of the prior family unit and deserves the same respect you would want if major life changes were on your horizon.