Going through a divorce is difficult enough, but if you’re a parent, trying to explain what’s going on to your kids can be even harder. Complicating matters can be your child’s age and ability to process what a topic as complex as divorce will mean for your family and – above all – to them.
Parents can – and perhaps should – explain the divorce to their children in broad strokes and without going into too much detail. At the end of the day, a child will primarily be concerned about who will take care of them, where they’ll live, and if they’re still loved. Parents should reinforce that kids will be OK despite the divorce, especially if they’re very young.
Naturally, kids will have a lot of follow-up questions about what’s going on and why. Even with older children, it may be best to continue painting the picture with broad strokes. Going into too much detail about your divorce – whether what you say is true, half-true, or a lie (in good or bad faith) – can adversely affect how a child feels about their other parent. If your ex-spouse catches wind of what you’ve told your kids about the divorce, allegations of parental alienation can arise and impact your custody or visitation arrangements.
Things to Avoid Discussing with Your Kids During & after Your Divorce
Again, kids are bound to have a lot of questions about your divorce. Some of these questions may be raised out of genuine curiosity, but understand that a lot of them can also come from a place of fear as well. Your goal should be to reassure your kids that they’re loved and will be OK. Remember that protecting their innocence can go hand-in-hand with protecting favorable custody and visitation arrangements.
Here’s a brief overview of some things about your divorce that your kids don’t need to know.
Avoid Telling Lies
Whatever you say to your kids about your divorce, avoid telling them lies about what’s going on or how significant these events are. If your divorce is the result of dysfunctional dynamics between you and your spouse, infidelity, and/or financial problems, there are age-appropriate ways to explain these things to your kids.
You should avoid telling them that “everything is OK” because kids are smart, and even very young children can tell that things are very much not OK leading up to a divorce. Telling your kids that things will look and feel very different really soon is a fair way to validate their perception of reality, but reassure them that they will be OK.
The key here is to avoid telling things that clearly conflict with their sense that things aren’t OK. This can only confuse and frustrate kids, and make the divorce even harder for them to process.
Always avoid telling lies that are intended to make your spouse look bad. These can put you at a direct risk of losing custody or visitation rights.
Avoid Revealing Unbridled Truths
While you should avoid telling your kids outright lies about your divorce, it does them no service to tell them unbridled truths about it, either. If you ever wish to share the nitty-gritty details of your divorce with your kids, it’s best to wait until they’re adults and have the capacity and tools to process the information they’re receiving. Even then, you should ask for their consent before offering information.
When kids are minors, though, there are age-appropriate ways to talk about difficult topics like cheating, money troubles, and even domestic abuse. That said, kids don’t need to hear about these things “in living color,” so to speak. In some cases, a lack of restraint can even amount to child abuse, such as talking about or describing sex acts your spouse did with another person.
Avoid Making Specific Promises
Parents may be understandably eager to reassure their kids that things will be OK, but going as far as making specific problems to assuage worries is ill-advised. Avoid making any specific promises about your divorce or what your kids’ lives will look like when the dust settles – especially when it comes to who they’ll live with and how often they’ll get to see the other parent.
Making specific promises to your kids, especially about the big stuff, puts you at risk of breaking them. If you want to promise your children anything, promise them that they’re loved and will be OK. Unless your divorce is finalized and a custody arrangement is in place, you can’t promise your children anything.