We recently read a newspaper advice column that tackled a couple of difficult questions: When should divorcing parents tell their children about the split and what should they say?
The man who penned the letter to advice columnist Ellie said that he and his wife of 14 years had “drifted apart” because he works long hours and travels frequently. He noted that “given the frequent separateness of our lives it wasn’t surprising that I became involved with another woman.”
Breaking the news
He asked Ellie how and when he and his wife should break the news of an impending divorce to their son, 11 years old, and daughter, 8. He also wondered how soon he could tell the kids about his “friend.”
The advice columnist replied that in order to avoid confusion, it’s best that the parents together discuss the coming changes with the children.
The most important message to the kids: both parents will always love them; the children did nothing wrong, and the parents still care for each other.
Ellie writes that as long as his wife agrees, the husband can tell the kids that he has a friend who he wants them to meet later, but that he should leave it at that. She urges him to “go slow on information about ‘Daddy’s friend.’”
Be open to questions
She also writes that the parents should tell the kids that they can ask questions, but don’t pressure them to do so. And that the parents should expect to be asked surprise questions, e.g., “Did you love this other person when you were still with Mommy?”
Ellie says an appropriate response can be along these lines: “That’s an adult story and doesn’t affect you children.” Then repeat that they are loved and that both parents will care for them, help them with schoolwork, take them to extracurricular events and so on.
Don’t do it on Christmas
Ellie also offers some interesting advice that might not occur to many: Don’t have this big discussion on a holiday. Don’t have it on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc.
She said that if the parents chose a holiday, it would burn that day into their memories forever. “I was about to unwrap my first present on Christmas morning when my Dad said he had something to tell us first . . . ”
Experts say that it’s important to think this difficult conversation through – plan it with your spouse. After all, this is an event that your children are going to remember. It’s a good place to start to keep anger and recriminations out of all discussions of your divorce and your soon-to-be-former spouse with your children.