It is not a simple task to blend together boundaries with honesty and respect in delivering what may be some of the hardest news you have ever given your children. We believe in you and your family and that you specifically have what it takes to do this with as much grace as possible.

 

Today is one of those especially hard days. The kind where the news feels so heavy it takes your breath away.

 

One of the first things out of my husband’s mouth this morning was the news of yet another mass shooting, this one even more deadly than the one before.

 

My mind and heart have been on the victims and their families all day and really even on my own. It is heartbreaking to swallow the fact that our children are growing up in this scary world some days. I just want to gather them all close and tell them how it’s all going to be okay, whether it’s true or not.

 

I think all of us as parents have similar reactions to heartbreaking news days. We want to gather our kids near, kiss their faces, and protect them from the horrors of the world.

 

I even caught myself wanting to listen to the news on the radio this morning but not loud enough that my son could hear it in the back. Days like this, I want to protect him from even HEARING the news.

 

So, what do we do when the earth shattering news is actually on the home front? What do we do when it has to actually come from us? How do we tell our kids about the divorce?

 

It’s a question we have received more than once from you. How do I tell my kids about the divorce? What do I do with the hard questions they have for me?

 

What I am not going to do is pretend this isn’t hard. I’m not going to tell you there is one right way to do it and I’m not going to pretend we have all the answers.

 

Your children, your situation, your family is unique. So, too will be your children’s responses, your transitioning situation, and your family’s response.

 

However, there are a few key pieces we believe can help along the way as you are preparing for this difficult conversation or fielding questions after and along the way.

 

What we are hoping to do today is provide a little bit of support, scaffolding, and tools as you are building the framework for how this conversation goes in your own home.

 

Below you will find several tips and ideas we believe may be useful in your preparation work.

 

It is not a simple task to blend together boundaries with honesty and respect in delivering what may be some of the hardest news you have ever given your children. We believe in you and your family and that you specifically have what it takes to do this with as much grace as possible.

 

Without further ado, here’s our list of 16 steps to take:

1. Wait to tell your children you are separating or getting a divorce until you and your spouse are on the same page and the decision has been made. Granted, they will likely have been observing the unrest in the home and know something is going on. What they don’t need is to be doing all the back and forth flip-flopping you and your spouse’s hearts may have been doing. That instability is brutal on children who need consistency and certainty in some regards. If you are still in the fight for your marriage, it is not time to use words like divorce with your children.

 

2. Make a plan. This is not a conversation worth leaving to chance. Make the plan with your spouse, if at all possible. Have several conversations about it together and map out what it is you want to both communicate. It may help you to write it out or make an outline you can be familiar with.

 

3. Put yourself in your children’s shoes while planning. Imagine what it would have been like for you to hear this news at the same age as each of your children. Think about what they are like and what they need. Are your children younger, more black and white in their thinking? Are they older, more mature, more curious? Think specifically about each of them and their ages, personalities, and developmental stages as you prepare.

 

4. Consider the timing in which you are to tell them. There is never a great time to deliver hard news. However, there are times that may be worse than others. For instance, it would be much more helpful for your kids if you are available to offer lots of warmth, support, and love after you deliver this news. Telling them right before bed or right before school would not afford you this opportunity. Even as adults, we know what it’s like to need someone near when you get tough news; children are no different.

 

5.Tell them all together or within the same day. It will be tempting to confide in your older children first, but carrying the weight of secrecy between siblings is too much pressure for a child to hold, whatever their age.

 

6. If at all possible, tell your children together with your spouse. Be united in this, even if you feel disunity in everything else. Your children need to feel some sense of stability as their world is crumbling.

 

7. As you talk about the other parent or the situation, show only respect. When speaking of your spouse, it will be tempting to sling dirt or lay out all the things he or she have done that makes them terrible. Your children do not need to be the ones to hold this. What they need is the space and freedom to continue to love each parent. It is MUCH harder for a child to respect or love someone that one of their parents is disrespecting.

 

8. Take responsibility for the divorce with your spouse. You may have a scorecard in your head. Your children do not need to know about it and they need to know the responsibility is in the hands of the adults not the children. They need to know it is not their fault, repeatedly.

 

9. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Reign in your anger and blame. Keep unnecessary details out of the picture, especially those that could be harmful for your kids.

 

10. At the same time, be age-appropriately honest. It is okay to tell your children a little bit about your feelings and your experience, with boundaries. For instance, they can know you feel sad too. They probably already know it or will observe it, but they need to know that you will take care of yourself and they do not have to do it. Children are the ones we are supposed to be taking care of, not the other way around.

 

11. Give them the practical pieces. Your child will likely be most curious about how this affects them. Communicate with them what is going to change and what is not. Living situation? Change. Who loves them? No change!

 

12. Be prepared for questions and don’t get annoyed if you have to answer the same questions repeatedly from your kids. They will process in their own way over time.

 

13. Communicate well about lots of different feelings they can expect. Communicate your love for them no matter which feeling they feel. Let them know that lots of reactions are normal and their feelings may even change as time goes on. What they most need to know is that you will be with them in those big feelings.

 

14. Tell a few other key support people just before or just after telling your children so that they can be watching out special for your kids as they process. For instance, a loving teacher or grandparent or babysitter who is with your kids a lot. You can determine whether it is best for your children to know they know. The goal is to simply have someone who can be extra eyes for you and an ally for your kids.

 

15. Afterward, give them some space and don’t crowd them. At the same time, ask occasional questions over the following days and stay near. Feel out what your children need and don’t be afraid to make mistakes in doing the best you can. They will know if you are near and continue to care or not.

 

16. If the looming conversation seems overwhelming, ask for help! If you and your spouse don’t feel like you can do this in a way where you are both calm, present, level-headed, and looking out for your children first, it’s okay to need to seek advice and wise counsel first. Find a child or family therapist to help you prepare or even be in the room with you to walk your family through this big conversation. Asking for help is always a brave decision.

 

We know this conversation is not an easy one. We know that balance of boundaries and being open and offering respect feels like walking a tight wire. Even if your children handle it like champs initially, it is likely that it was hard or nerve-wracking for you at the very least.

 

So, as you process and grieve and prepare, give yourself the gift you are going to give your children. Surround yourself with people to hold you near on tough news days like today.

 

The only way through this is together.

 

Thank you for letting us be a part of that togetherness too.

April Moseley

April is a Marriage and Family Therapist with a background in youth and campus ministry. She’s an avid reader, an occasional baker, and a lover of words and people. She enjoys continuously learning and sharing on emotional health, spiritual growth, and safe places to land. April lives in Nashville with her husband Josh and their son Jude.
April Moseley

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