“My wife and I are getting divorced and I’m moving out. What’s the best way to talk to our children, aged 10 and eight, about what’s happening and the future?”
This is an important time in everyone’s life as everything is about to change and your children need you to have clarity, direction and confidence in the things that you say to them at this crucial time.
I suggest that you draw a circle and put spokes across it and write in each segment some guarantees of things that will stay the same. This will give your child confidence and a sense of security. I know that at this time of transition and change you are not sure of many things but put in things like – you will stay at the same school, go to the same football club and see Grandma on Sunday’s for example.
It’s very important that you sit down with your partner and agree some key messages that you want to tell your children. Put aside your anger, differences and pain and sing from the same song sheet on some key things for the sake of your children. Put your children at the centre of the process and stay away from blame, accusation and rancour. This of course, can be very difficult and challenging, as you are going through many changes yourself and maybe experiencing pain, anger, fear and grief making it difficult to support, nurture and discipline your child at this stressful time also.
The key message to impart is that your child is NOT to blame for what’s happened so many children I see blame themselves for what has happened. Make sure your child doesn’t shoulder any blame for what’s happened between you and your partner.
Another key message is to tell them that you love them unconditionally and always will. Be there for them even if they get angry about what’s happened. Listen really attentively to them and answer their questions truthfully and age appropriately. Don’t try to be their friend – be their parent.
Reassure them that you will still be in their lives even if you live in a new place. That they will now have 2 homes full of love. Reassure them that you will still pick them up from school, take them to play netball on Saturdays or visit the library on Wednesdays if that’s what you have always done.
Create new simple routines that fit in with your new schedules and life gradually over time. I encourage the parents I work with to make time to have dinner together regularly, or bake cupcakes or pizza, or read a story before bed. Have a regular film night where you all put on your pyjamas and eat popcorn. Stay involved and don’t over compensate indulging bad behaviour or giving too many treats. Keep a sense of normality and continue a familiar routine in your child’s life. This will help them adjust to the changes and feel more secure.
Put aside your differences and facilitate and allow frequent visits that continue traditions that will be most helpful to your children. Put your children’s long term well being at the centre of your decision making and watch your child still bloom and blossom despite the divorce. It’s very important that you keep the bigger picture in mind throughout the legal discussions and always keep your children’s wellbeing at the centre of your discussions with your soon to be ex.
I wrote my ‘Talking To Children About Divorce’ conversational cards to help you open up the often difficult and painful conversations around divorce. Pick a time when you are feeling relaxed and confident and get your child to pick a card to chat around. Let the conversation flow and be honest if you don’t yet have all the answers to their questions. Take your lead from them and laugh about happier times and memories of great holidays and over time you will all adjust to the changes.