We recently posted on the matter of how to let friends and family know that a separation/divorce is imminent. In so doing, we neglected the far thornier subject of how to tell the kids.
This is indeed a ticklish subject often because parents underestimate how much kids already know about their parents’ unhappiness. It also become problematic because it is difficult for two parents who already disagree about so much to orchestrate a common front when telling the kids. But a joint meeting is the right thing to do and can try to set a course toward a civil divorce.
Here is what I sent to a client who indicated he and his spouse do want to do this together. I have footnoted the points to indicate the method behind the process.
Parents and kids should meet together. It should be short and business like:
- Mom/Dad and I have decided to separate.
- It has nothing to do with you but as you are probably very aware, our relationship has been deteriorating.
- We promise to keep it civil and try to keep you kids out of it; understanding that you are and will be affected.
- If we violate our promise to keep it civil or try to drag you into issues or take sides, please call us out on it without adding to the problems.
- Let’s have another meeting like this in 30 days and we will report to you on what progress we have made without putting you in the middle.
The meeting needs to have everyone there so there are no secrets and everyone hears the same thing. It really doesn’t matter who takes the lead (mom or dad). There probably have been a bunch of separate private conversations but the common meeting makes it “official.” And, nothing prevents a meeting a week or month later saying “We have learned that we may be able to put things back together and want to try that.” Now, circling back to points 1-5 above.
- Makes it clear. Kids will want to know who is leaving. Is house being sold. All fair questions but it is not necessary to have the path resolved before you communicate the decision. You can tell them a lot of these decisions have to pay heed to finances and that you will begin working on that.
- Young kids need to hear this even though they may not absorb it. Little kids tend to think the world centers around them and that they cause a lot of the world’s problems.
3/4. The promise of civility may sound trite but everyone wants to hear those words uttered. And your kids now have the ability to push back: “Dad, I thought you promised to be civil; and it doesn’t sound like you are doing that.”
- You have entered a tunnel and your kids would like to know there is another side. There will be hard decisions made in that tunnel that will affect the adults and the children. Everyone professes that divorce should not affect the children. That’s crap. It most certainly is going to affect them but it affects 435,000 American families each year. Your kids should not have a front row seat to the decision making process but they are entitled to know where they are in this dark divorce tunnel and if progress is being made.