The decision to divorce is one of the most difficult decisions you’ll make in your lifetime.  When that decision also affects children, it’s important that you and your partner engage in some reflection and come to an agreement about how to break the news to your children.  As your world and life as you’ve known it comes apart so will your children’s.  The first step in helping your children weather this storm is having a plan about how to break the news to them.  This is a delicate task and ideally your plan will enable you to preserve their innocence while providing them with answers to their questions.  The following are some guidelines to help you with your plan:

  1. It’s important that your children see you as united in spite of the impending separation and divorce.
  2. Part of the ongoing reassurance you can provide your children is ongoing affection.  Don’t underestimate the power of touch to calm and reassure them.
  3. Do not blame each other.  Assure your children they are not to blame AND that you are not blaming them.
  4. If your children ask why the separation is happening have carefully selected examples prepared that both of you agree on.  For example, you might say “You may have noticed us fighting” or “You may have noticed that we aren’t sleeping in the same room” or whatever is appropriate to your situation.
  5. You can omit or skip telling them certain information but don’t lie to your children.  The key here is that the information you share needs to be age-appropriate.  Your job is to convey what’s true while not treating them like they are adults who can handle grown-up information and detail.  Be careful when sharing with teenagers.  As much as they’d like to be an adult, they are not; however, they may need you to share more detail with them than younger children.
  6. You can explain that you’ve fallen out of love with each other; however, you will continue to love them.  You might explain how love between parents is different from the love between a child and a parent.  A love that a parent has for a child is never-ending.  A parent never falls out of love with a child.  A parent’s love for a child goes on forever.
  7. Don’t give your children mixed signals by being overly friendly with each other.  Be respectful of each other and model respectful distance physically and verbally with each other.  Make it clear to your children that the decision is definite and that reconciliation is not an option.
  8. Assure them that they don’t have to worry about the details of the divorce because it’s your job to take care of this grown-up stuff.
  9. Share with them what you expect to change and what you expect to remain constant/not change.
  10. Let them know they may find themselves having feelings of hurt, anger, sadness, fear, etc.  This is normal and let them know that you are both there for them to talk about their feelings.
  11. Do not discuss alimony or child support in front of them or within their hearing.  Be aware that once your children know about the divorce, they will be hyper-attuned to hearing anything that is attached to it.  Don’t make the mistake that they are not listening if they are within earshot and seem to be preoccupied with something else.
  12. Make sure you assure them the two of you will be okay, that your needs will be taken care of, that they don’t need to worry about you financially or emotionally.  However, be honest with them that emotionally it is normal for this to be a difficult time.  They may see one, the other or both of you experiencing strong emotion.  Reassure them that this is normal and that you are and will be okay (even if you’re not sure this is true).  This point is about protecting your children from your grown-up stuff and continuing to support them being children.
  13. Tell them that you do not want them to ever feel that they have to take sides or choose one parent over the other.

Many parents express concern over how their children will weather the divorce process.  The research shows that a positive outcome is directly tied to how you and your partner healthily move through this process yourselves.  There’s certainly no manual about how best to break the news to your children, but making a plan that answers your children’s questions while at the same time letting them continue to be children is a start in the right direction.