Tips to try
Divorce may not be what you planned, but you can help your
children to weather this change in your family.
• There are several books for children that can help them
make sense of their parents' divorce. My all-time favorite for
younger kids is the picture book, Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown.
But I strongly caution you to pre-read anything you plan to share
with your children. Some books address topics that you may not be
ready to discuss with your kids or that don't apply to your
situation. Sharing a book about divorce with your child
communicates to him that his feelings are normal, that he is not
alone with his worries and that it's OK to ask questions and to
talk about his concerns.
• Try, whenever possible, to inform older children (10 and
older) of definite changes as early as possible and make efforts to
involve all of your children in any decision-making that can help
them to feel some sense of control. Once a new home has been
chosen, for example, involve them in decisions about how to
decorate their new bedrooms or other spaces.
PARENTING ISN'T FOR sissies
Divorce certainly isn't something we expect when we marry. But when
things don't turn out as we planned-and when adjustments in
expectations or circumstances aren't possible or are
When it does, someone has to tell the children.
It's hard enough for adults to make sense of divorce, no matter
who initiates it. Imagine what it's like for a child.
Imagine how it feels to have the two people you love most in the
world decide they no longer love each other enough to live
together. Perhaps you already know what this feels like.
It's helpful if divorcing couples can collaborate on how to
deliver the news and can do it together, with all of the children
present. While this may not seem possible to you, consider that
doing so would send a strong message to your children that you are
able and intend to continue working together for their sakes.
Not sure you're in a place to pull this off? A mediator or
therapist can support you in deciding how to do this, which can be
particularly helpful in acrimonious situations.
Hostility needs to take a time-out during this delicate
discussion with your children.
Your children will want to know why the divorce is happening. Be
honest, but be discreet. They don't need to hear everything. Many
children wonder if the divorce is their fault, so it's extremely
important to tell them that nothing they did caused your divorce
and nothing they could have done would have prevented it.
Children whose parents divorce also commonly worry, "If my
parents stopped loving each other, will they ever stop loving
The first time you discuss your divorce with your kids will be a
time for tons of reassurance. Let them know that you both will
always love them. Tell your kids what you know about the specific
changes they can expect, but resist the urge to assuage your own
feelings of guilt by making any grand gestures or promises unless
you're absolutely positive that you can follow through on them.
Just as you are experiencing myriad confusing and shifting
emotions, so are your children. They may feel betrayed and on some
level might not even be surprised (some will even feel relief). It
will take time for them to adjust to this news, so be patient and
understand that nothing they feel or express during this time will
be irrational or abnormal (this does not mean you shouldn't respond
to misbehavior, though a little bit of latitude is reasonable).
On the flip side, sometimes parents get very little in the way
of a response. Give your children time and space to sort out the
Children will follow your lead about how to emotionally respond
to your divorce. It's unrealistic that they won't ever see you shed
a few tears but remember to never turn your kids into confidantes.
While it can seem somewhat gratifying to disclose certain details
of your divorce to your kids, remember that it's usually in your
child's best interest to maintain a positive connection to his
other parent, particularly his same-gendered parent. Your child's
developing self-esteem can be greatly impacted by how he and others
regard his same-gendered parent, so avoid speaking negatively about
your ex in front of your children.
No matter how you talk to your children about your divorce-even
if you manage to turn lemons into lemonade and spin your challenges
into a grand new adventure-leave room for grief. Divorce is not
unlike a death: it is the death of your family's way of being in
the world as you knew it, and you may all feel moments of
tremendous grief for a long time. So be patient with yourself and
your children as you all try to make sense of this confusing
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and
family therapist in private practice in Batavia. She has been a
clinical member of The American Association for Marriage and Family
Therapy since 1995 and is a featured blogger at
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