You and your spouse know that nothing more can be done. You tried counseling, you tried talking it out, but it’s time to face the reality that your marriage is ending. It seemed like that decision was the hardest part, but you soon realize that the hardest is yet to come: now you have to tell your kids.
Whether they are young or grown and moved out, there is no one right way to break this kind of news to your children. Even if they suspected the possibility because of how things have been, it’s still going to hurt. You both love them and want to make this painful transition as smooth as you can to protect them from the worst possible outcomes.
Thankfully, there are some clear ways you can support them to that end.
3 ways to support your children during this time
Depending on their age and maturity level, the conversations will look different. Regardless of these differences, there are three key things to keep in mind:
1. Keep the message simple and need-to-know.
If you feel particularly hurt about the divorce, it can be tempting to gush to your kids about why you need to separate. Resist this urge. It is not okay to pit your children against your spouse so you can look like a martyr. Let them know that while you will be moving into separate homes, this decision is whatʻs best for the family going forward. Assure them that they are not the cause for the divorce and that you love them dearly.
2. Provide as much consistency as possible.
This news is going to shake up their lives in a big way. Kids thrive on routine and consistency, so do your best to maintain their schedules however you can. Keep dinner and bedtime going how it has been. Honor the house rules and expectations in the new home just like before. Encourage them to follow through with their extracurricular commitments and give them opportunities to hang with friends and to be out in nature. Above all, do not isolate your children from their social circles and avoid leaning on them for support.
3. Make space for questions and conversation.
While you want to resist the urge to dump the more troublesome contents of the divorce onto your children, it is just as important that you keep lines of communication open for their benefit. Check-in with them often to see how they are managing emotionally, and remind them that you are available for any questions or concerns they may have. Give them honest but reassuring answers, and affirm that no matter what, it is not their fault, they are safe and you are here with them.
Processing and healing from this separation will be hard on everyone. Do what you can to maintain a unified front as co-parents and remember to center your children as much as possible. Over time, your family will adapt to the new living arrangements and it is very likely that you will discover a new normal that encourages everyoneʻs happiness and well-being in a whole new way.