Talking to children about divorce carefully and gently is critical. It helps to find a quiet time and place, maybe after dinner, in the play yard when the children are fairly calm. The parent who is ahead of the other in the process may begin to speak first.
One of two longest established, most respected mediators providing divorce mediation since 1979 offers expert ideas about talking to children about divorce.
Ask the children what they, themselves, have noticed about your relationship. Are you having more fun together than you used to? Do you seem more upset with one another than you used to? What have they noticed?
Tell them you have been observing your relationship yourselves, too, for quite some time, talking about it, and even talking with a neutral professional decision-making helper about it.
They are the most important people in the world to you. You couldn’t make a decision about the future of your relationship, something which will deeply affect everyone, without very careful and thoughtful consideration.
Although you still love one another, and have deep respect for each other, you haven’t been nearly as happy together for a long, long time as you should be and want to be. Most likely you’ve grown apart to such a distance that you can’t reach back and connect to one another. It hasn’t been for lack of trying. You’ve tried everything you could over a long, long time. You’ve talked to professional helpers and your own parents and brothers and sisters. You’ve finally made up your minds to still be parents together for the rest of your lives, but to stop trying to work so hard to become the married couple that you haven’t been able to be. It’s been like trying to put square blocks into round holes.
In spite of the pain of loss of the family unit under one roof, you have made the decision to separate and divorce. There will be sadness, even anger, sometimes feelings of hate and rage, which are normal feelings. These feelings are temporary and you will definitely return to feeling normal and, hopefully, sooner than later.
It is your intention to put a roof, “a kind of umbrella of protection” over all of you, as a family. You intend to “preserve the nest”, the family in which you all will continue to live, but in two separate houses. You will continue to do things together; parent conferences, graduations, dinners out, get-togethers with extended family, weddings, births; maybe even more times. You are, of course, still planning the trip to Disney World. You won’t fail to let the other parent know how you’re doing when you are with them; you won’t fall between any cracks. You intend to talk with one another regularly, to have “Parent Conferences”, to talk to each other and with you about your needs at school, extracurricular activities and will keep trying to create a good couple parenting relationship. You still intend to create an even better parent relationship, which will never end. You will always be their parents, forever and ever.
You want them to feel open to come to talk with you, to tell you when they are mad at you, because most kids are mad at their parents when their family restructures into two homes. And, you may recommend that they get a professional outside-the-family counselor or a group counseling situation, at least for a little while, someone who knows about talking with children about divorce. You hope they find friends who have encountered this challenge successfully (of having divorced or separated parents), with whom they can be friends and from whom they can learn how those friends have adjusted and the ways they maybe even like their new situations of living in two homes.
“Most of all, we want you to know that we respect each other…for X and Y reasons, especially. And, that without having been married to one another, which was good in this and that ways, we wouldn’t have had you as our particular children in our lives. This would have been unimaginable and we have no regrets about this marriage. We had many good years together, especially being together with you. Remember you don’t have to protect us or be our parents. You need to pay attention to what you need and go about the business of being kids, just people of your own age!”
“We’ll both be here, without any out of town travels, or business trips, for at least ten days, consecutively, and much longer if we are able, so we can answer all of your questions, provide you comfort and listen to your feelings. We both believe there is a better, more hopeful future to come after the clouds and the rain clear away.”