How much should you share with your kids about your divorce? It’s not an easy question to answer.
But one thing is for sure – ensuring you deliver an age-appropriate message to your children is the key to helping them process the news.
Ian shares his top tips on what to share (and what not to share) with your kids about your divorce.
What Not To Share With Your Kids About Your Divorce
Too much detail
Kids just need to be told no more they need to know and, more particularly, only those things that will directly impact on their lives. Issues such as, who is moving out and who is staying, who is going to take them to school and bring them home and who is going to look after them and how often they will see their other parent.
Don’t overwhelm them with too much detail on the reasons for the separation. All they need to know is that you weren’t happy together anymore and have decided to live separately – that this will be better for everybody. Obviously the level of detail will depend on the children’s ages and maturity.
Negative opinions on your ex
As hard as that may be, at all costs avoid badmouthing your ex in front of your kids. You may have ended your relationship with your ex, but the kids will continue to have a relationship with both of you and, unless there are some pretty unusual circumstances, you need to encourage that.
Don’t put your kids under more stress and emotional pressure than they will already be feeling.
Updates on legal issues
Divorces may take a long time to be finalised and older children may need to be kept updated on what is happening. But try to keep the updates on a need to know basis without providing graphic details or simply putting your perspective to the kids. There are two sides to every story and, except in extreme situations, it’s best that you are not trying to put matters simply from your own perspective.
Your child may be required to attend on a meeting – such as with a Family Consultant appointed by the Court. Simply prepare them by telling them about the date and place of the appointment; don’t, under any circumstances, try to influence what they should say or how they feel about any of the issues.
Who said what
Stay focused on your kids’ needs at all times and don’t expose them to any unpleasant encounter or conversation you may have had with your ex. Who said what to whom (and your interpretation of events) should be of no concern to them.
Any conflict between you and your ex
Any conflict between you and your ex should remain strictly between you two and never spill onto the children. They have their own emotions to handle without feeling like they’re stuck in the middle of their parents’ issues.
The same principle applies to money matters. These are common in many divorces, but must be discussed and resolved by the parents and the legal system, not by the children.
It can be necessary for older children to be told the truth if money is not as readily available now as was before and to help them understand the situation but don’t blame the other party – kids usually work things out pretty clearly themselves without having to be pushed by their parents.
What To Share With Your Kids About Your Divorce
First and foremost, the kids simply need to know the basic truth – you and your ex are splitting and will not be living together. This needs to be communicated in an age-appropriate way and once again, on a need-to-know basis, using simple and short comments without the gory details. Being truthful and keeping it simple with your kids develops trust and sets them a healthy example to follow.
How much you both love them
When kids are constantly reminded that they are loved by both parents, it makes them feel secure and helps them to cope and adjust to the separation and the new living arrangements. The best way of showing your love is by spending time with them (any time with kids is “quality time”), rather than trying to outdo your ex by buying expensive presents and doing special favours.
That they are not to blame for your split
It is often said that kids feel that they are to blame for the breakdown of their parents’ marriage so they need to be reassured that that is not the case.
Don’t allow them to linger those thoughts.
That you are still a family but things will work differently
By remaining civil with your ex and minimising conflict children will realise that, despite the separation, you are all still one family just living in two different homes.
Children are often more resilient and can cope a lot better than adults. Creating the right environment for them to do that is the very least we can do.
Are you ready to move on from your relationship? Want to keep things amicable as you separate?
Then consider family mediation instead of expensive and combative family lawyers.
Ian Shann, owner and accredited family mediator at Move On Mediation in Perth, has helped hundreds of separating couples to separate quickly and amicably.