The best way to approach this painful conversation is to remember that it's all about your kids. Tell them what is happening and why. Let them know what changes to expect. Reassure them of your unconditional love. Answer their questions calmly. Show them that you and your spouse remain united in working together as their parents. Your quiet confidence will go a long way in easing their anxieties about the future.
But, first of all, be absolutely sure your decision to divorce is final.
- Talk with your spouse first
A unified parental front will reassure your children. Get together and plan what to say well before you actually sit down with the kids. This kind of preparation will help keep the conversation on track. If you and your spouse are having difficulty cooperating, consult a mediator for guidance.
- Tell your kids together
As painful as it will be, this conversation can be an important ‘preview' of the future. Having both you and your spouse present and engaged in the conversation shows your children that you're still going to be their parents. Remember that older children will have deeper questions, so plan on addressing them at another time.
- Stay calm, don't blame
This is not the time or place to play the blame game. Staying calm and confident eases some of your kids' anxiety about the future. Seeing that you and your spouse respect each other and talk with each other will reassure them that they can talk with you and rely on you.
- Explain why this is happening
Specifics are not necessary or appropriate, but oversimplified reasons may confuse them. Give good, general reasons. Your children want to understand, so make sure your message is simple, straightforward and age appropriate.
- Help them understand what to expect
Give your kids details about the changes ahead. They will be concerned about where they are going to live and with whom. You don't have to have all the answers. Be truthful about what you know-and what you don't know. Do not make promises you can't keep.
- Give them details on the parent who is leaving
Kids afraid of "losing" the parent who is leaving need reassurance that the relationship they depend on will continue. Tell them where their parent is moving, and when they will see each other.
- Reassure them of things that won't change
Most reassurance you give your children will take place in small, everyday ways. In this conversation, make sure they know that they are no way at fault. Be sensitive to their reactions, but be prepared to give them time to adjust. Remind them of your unconditional love for them. Remind them again and again with hugs, smiles, affection and attention to their lives.
- Welcome questions
Your children will have questions-now, and in the future. In fact, they will develop new concerns or revisit aspects of the divorce often as they grow. Answer as honestly as you can, even when you have to say, "I don't know." Let your patience, courage and love comfort and guide you all through this difficult life transition to a hopeful future.