Don't let your children be the last to know about your divorce. Don't let him find out from neighbors, teachers, or relatives about the divorce. When you know, they should know. If possible, have both parents and all the children together; you might want to call in an impartial third party, such as a therapist.
Answer all questions with as little drama as possible, but be truthful. If you don't know the answer, say so. Always be age-appropriate with your language and in the amount of detail you share with your child.
"Why?" will be the most likely first question your child asks. Discuss the "why" with your spouse before telling your children so that your information is consistent. Do not lie, but choose your words carefully. For example, if the divorce is a result of an affair, your 5-year-old child doesn't need to know lurid details. "Mommy and Daddy don't love each other in the way that a Mommy and Daddy should," can suffice for now. As your child gets older and is still curious, you may decide to share more information conservatively.
Nearly every child of divorce at some point thinks that the divorce is his fault. Psychotherapist Barry Sommer suggests that you "Tell your child every day that the divorce is not his fault ... even if you believe that he must know the divorce has nothing to do with him, reinforce it daily without a lot of fuss."
Try to imagine how your child might feel. Imagine what it would be like to have this scenario unwillingly thrust upon you. Suddenly you're living in two different bedrooms in two different homes. Work with your ex-partner to avoid any additional pressure being added onto your child's shoulders at this emotionally draining time.
Even if your child does not usually express her feelings verbally, open a conversation about the hurt she is feeling. Let her know, without burdening her with your own devastation, anger or fears, that you, too, are feeling sad about the end of the family life you shared together. Put your own bitterness on the shelf while you have this conversation and use words appropriate to your child's age.
Do not put your child in the middle by asking him to choose with which parent he wants to live, spend Christmas, or go on summer vacation. Children of divorce will tell you that being forced to choose between parents is one of the most distressing outcomes of the divorce. The guilt can be overwhelming.
Assure your child that you will always love her. She will probably wonder at some point—especially if you are dating or marrying again—that if you can stop loving Daddy, perhaps you will stop loving her as well? Reassure her know no one will ever replace her.
Tips From Parents Who Have Been There
"Keep the business of your divorce out of the site of your kids. For instance, they do not need to be there when you sign the final papers or hash out the custody agreement. Nor do they need to know the details later on."
"Do not fight over the same reasons you got the divorce in the first place when the children are around."
"My ex used to say awful things about me behind my back to the children. It backfired on him, however. When the children got older, they didn't want to spend any time with him. It's very hurtful to the child to hear nasty things said about one parent, especially when it comes from the other parent."
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