When to Tell Children– “We’ve Decided to Divorce”

Sometimes the hardest part of telling children about divorce is finding when.

Sometimes the hardest part of telling children about divorce is finding the right time.

“We know we need to tell the children we’ve decided to divorce—and soon. But, we are really struggling with when.

“Jake is quarterback for his college team and has games every weekend. We don’t want to mess with his school or distract him before a big game. We also want to tell the kids together, which means waiting until he’s home. By then, we risk ruining Thanksgiving. Between work travel, the kids’ schedules, and holidays—is there ever going to be a good time?” asked Jeff.

The honest answer—there is never a good time to tell children about divorce. Yet, a few factors help guide when the best time.

Sooner is generally better

Once parents have made the decision to divorce, telling children as soon as possible has many benefits.

First, your children likely suspect divorce is coming. Innately intuitive, children quickly pick up on problems between their parents. This causes questions. If parents don’t provide answers, children make up their own. Often, answers far worse than the truth. Honest conversation provides real answers to their questions. It also brings the comfort of the known.

Secondly, children need to feel secure, even—especially—as so much is changing. Security comes from feeling included. Whether a clique, a team, or a family—no one wants to be the outsider. Feeling outside breeds insecurity.

When something is going on between parents and children aren’t told, they feel like outsiders in their own family. By sharing what is going on, children feel “inside” their family. This brings security in the midst of the change.

Finally, you keep children from finding out from someone else. We live in the information age. Between social media, information on your phones/computers, or conversations in the neighborhood—information travels far and fast. Much harder than hearing about divorce from your parents is hearing it from someone else.

You don’t have to have all the answers

Many parents delay telling children “until we’ve figured it all out.” They believe they can’t say anything until they know everything. Concern about leaving children’s questions unanswered is understandable. Yet, parents don’t need all the answers to say something.

Again, children likely already suspect something is coming. If the decision to divorce has been made, telling children eases their mind. They are much like people who have felt sick for months. The patient may hate the diagnosis of diabetes, but they often prefer it over the amorphous fears of “what is going on?” Children feel the same.

Key—give the answers you do know, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you know they will stay in their school, tell them. If you aren’t sure, simply offer, “We are figuring that out. As soon as we know, you will know.” Though children might not like the answer, honesty and inclusion builds trust. Trust that helps them cope with the lack of information on specific issues far better than lack of information on everything.

And, that trust matters. Children’s entire world is changing. And, the people supposed to make the world work are the changers. Keeping them in the dark makes them question if they can trust you.

You are people they can still trust when you:

  • Keep them informed on issues about them—at an age-appropriate level,
  • Keep the issues between the two of you away from them, and
  • Focus on working together to care for them to show that, while you may not stay married, you remain joined as their parents.

Realize—there is never a good time

The same busyness that torpedoes so many marriages infects the divorce process. Scrambled schedules make it hard to get people together at all—even to tell about divorce. So, don’t wait for the perfect time. It won’t come.

Do look for:

  • A time that allows children to hear the news together. This offers them the possibility of processing the information together. Some will want to/others will not. Providing the opportunity is the key. (It also means you only have to gear up once for the conversation.)
  • A time that allows each child time to process in their own way. Some may need time alone. Others will want to be with friends. Some will have immediate questions. Others will simply want to get back to their video game. Planning for them to perhaps take a day off school or wait for a long weekend can provide children some downtime to react in their own way.
  • A time that isn’t connected to another key moment of life. If possible, don’t tell around a major holiday, family event, or major achievement for them. This is the hardest element. If life is so full you keep running up against these, choose the least bad alternative.

Telling the children is never easy. And, finding a time can be the hardest factor of all.

Yet, telling helps. It gets all of you in the loop. It assures children they can count on their own instincts. It provides a path for inclusion in the decisions as you transition your family from what is not working to what will.

If you would like more information on helping children through divorce or any other area of divorce, please email info@ResolutionMediationIN.com or call 317-793-0825. We look forward to serving you.

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People going through divorce often feel like they are stepping off a cliff. They are keenly aware they don’t know what they don’t know. We offer answers in a process that protects people, preserves assets, and provides a way forward. 

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