Over the course of several posts, we will provide some tips for talking with your children about your divorce, as this is one of the questions most asked of our attorney mediators.
The first tip universally recommended by experts is to work with your co-parent in order to establish an agreed upon approach and united front regarding the story behind the divorce to tell to your children. In other words, it is important for children to hear a mutual and consistent story regarding how their parents split up, rather than two conflicting, blame ridden accounts of the breakup.
In most divorces, arriving at an agreed upon account of the divorce can seem difficult, if not impossible given the emotional backdrop of the divorce, but it is important to take this step for the benefit of your children. Ultimately you and your co-parent will have many mutual experiences around your children – athletic events, recitals, graduations, weddings, grand children – and you want your children to be comfortable in celebrating life’s milestones with both of you. Competing stories about one’s parents can force children to choose an allegiance with one camp over the other and the exclusion of a parent from the life of a child can lead to difficulties in the development of that child.
Every divorce story has at least two (if not more) sides – life is complex and never black and white. That is reality in the adult world and as adults, we understand that reality resides in areas of gray. But kids see things differently, most children see life has having only one truth. Without the ability to mesh the complexities of life, many children will feel compelled to choose one story and find fault with the other parent for causing the divorce. This places children in the vulnerable position of choosing one parent’s version of events over the other parent’s version. This choice of one parent to the exclusion of the other is not ordinarily helpful to assisting in their long term development and establishing an important bond with both parents.
In working to develop this mutual story, parents should:
– focus on a mutuality of the decision regarding the divorce
– make a basic statement regarding the reasons for the divorce (spare the details)
– position not as a break up of the family but a re-organization across two households
– children should feel comfortable to continue their relationship with both parents
In addition, it helps to utilize a non blaming approach for the story:
“We do not make each other happy like married couples should.”
“We have grown apart.”
“We will feel happier apart, the fighting will stop and we’ll be better parents."
“We both still love you and will continue to be involved in your lives.”
Ultimately they are your children and you will need to choose the approach that will work best for your situation. However, talking together with the children, as well as developing a joint and consistent approach to the divorce story will avoid trapping your children in a loyalty conflict and allow them to continue an appropriate bonding with both parents as they grow older. That continued involvement of both parents in the lives of their children is critical to their future success following the divorce.