By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
Ever go on a vacation without making plans in advance? The consequences are usually disastrous. If you fail to plan ahead regarding reservations, canceling mail delivery, caring for your pets and knowing your destination, your vacation is likely to be filled with disappointment, frustration and even heartache.
What about preparing your children for your pending divorce? Do you have a plan – or are you going to wing it without any prior thought? For children, divorce is a monumental life experience for which they have no preparation. The very foundation of their security – their love for both parents – is being thrown into turmoil. Everything they knew and accepted as part of routine daily life is going to be affected in one way or another. They don’t know what to expect. They also have little source of comfort other than their parents who are announcing the devastating news.
How can you help your children through this process? First, sit down face to face and talk to your children’s other parent — as if both of your lives depend on it. Regardless of your involvement with attorneys or other legal resources, this should be a conversation between two parents who love their children and want the best outcome for them.
Agree to set aside the emotional drama of your feelings about one another at this time. Step out of the hurt, anger, resentment, jealousy, frustration, regret … and focus on just one issue: How will we tell our children about the divorce?
Here are some sound suggestions, based on my own divorce experience, more than a decade of divorce coaching and conversations with numerous psychotherapists.
1. Put yourselves in your children’s shoes.
Picture each of your children and talk to each other about how each child is likely to feel and react to the news. Put yourselves in their shoes and feel their emotions with deep compassion. You know your children. Discuss their ages and personalities. Are they likely to blame themselves … erupt in anger … beg you to stay together … want to run away and hide? Knowing them as you do, find a level of agreement and be prepared with the most comforting words and reassurances that will resonate with each child.
2. Remind them they are not at fault.
Many children feet responsible in some way for their parent’s relationship problems and divorce. They need reassurance, again and again, that the problem is not about them – even if you’ve been fighting about parenting issues. Assure them it’s not their behavior that is behind your decision to divorce – and there is nothing they can do to make things different. You can say something like, “Mom and Dad have been having problems. We don’t agree about certain key issues and that creates conflict. So, we are going to make some changes, but none of this is your fault and never was.”
3. Reassure them you both will always be their parents.
Your children need to understand two things at this time. Both parents will always love them – and will always be their parents. It is important to emphasize that no matter what changes occur over the weeks, months and years ahead, you two will still be their real parents and no one else will replace you. Tell them you both will always be there for them, no matter where you live or how things should change.
You can say, “No matter what happens, no matter what changes occur, one thing is for certain. We will always love you. That will never change. Regardless of where we live, what we do and how old you get. You can count on that. And don’t ever forget it.” Make sure you live up to that in the arrangements you will be making.
4. Focus on change, not on blame.
Divorce is a scary word. It is wise at this time to talk to your children about change as a natural part of life. “Everything in life keeps changing. You grow bigger, stronger and smarter every year. The seasons change. You change grades and schools as you get older. Change means things will be different in some ways. It doesn’t mean things will be bad. Often change can make things better, and that’s what Mom and Dad want to do.”
Explain that it can take time for us to get used to changes, like starting a new grade with a new teacher. Other times change gives us a chance to do things in a new and better way, like trying a new sport or a hobby you grow to love.
Mention that the changes in our family are not about who’s right or wrong or who’s good or bad. “Both of us tried our best to resolve our problems. The old way didn’t work for us and now we will be trying a new way for our family to live so there’s more peace, calmness and happiness for us all. Let’s think about how we can see the changes ahead as a new adventure — a brand new chapter in our lives. It may not only be different – it may be better!”
5. Have a positive attitude about what lies ahead.
Children are often frightened when faced with new experiences – and divorce is a monumental challenge for them to grasp. Keep reminding your children that everything will be okay. “We are both working on all the details so you don’t have to worry about anything because we have it all under control.”
This isn’t the time to go into a lot of specifics. Addressing fears and feelings is more important. Keep the message very generic. “Some things will stay the same and others will change. So there will be new ways of doing some things … new responsibilities … differences in our schedules. But life will go on. We will get used to the differences. Some of them you may even prefer. And after a while, we’ll look back and say, life is different than it used to be, but it’s all okay. Mom and Dad are okay, you’re okay, we still love each other. And that’s most important of all!”
Ideally both parents should tell the children together and agree in advance about the messages you are conveying. If you’re having the conversation alone, you must stay neutral and not talk disrespectfully about the other parent your children still love. Focus on your children’s feelings and reactions. Respond compassionately in the best way you can.
Your reassuring empathic messages are the foundation your children will depend on when they are feeling frightened, sad or insecure. Repeat them often in your own words and your own style. You’ll be rewarded in countless ways as you and your children encounter and overcome the challenges of life after divorce.
My internationally-acclaimed ebook, How Do I Tell The Kids About The Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide To Preparing Your Children – With Love provides an innovative approach to having this tough conversation. It also gives you a script to use so you don’t forget the 6 Key Messages Every Child Needs To Hear. To learn more about this strongly endorsed, unique and compassionate approach, visit: https://www.childcentereddivorce.com/coaching-programs/kids/
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of numerous books, e-courses and programs on divorcing with children and co-parenting successfully. For instant download of her FREE EBOOK on Doing Co-Parenting Right: Success Strategies For Avoiding Painful Mistakes! go to: childcentereddivorce.com/book.
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