Telling your kids you’re getting divorced is one of the hardest conversations you’ll have and you’ll likely spend many hours thinking about every aspect of the conversation.
My current guest, Sandy recently asked her eldest, now twenty-three, what he remembered of the announcement and was surprised by the differences in his recollection and her own. Here’s Sandy:
I asked my son the other day, what he recalls about the divorce announcement. He said, “Yeah, I remember you held a family meeting and we all made fun of it, because he hated family meetings and guess who was in charge of making fun of the family meeting?”
That brought back all these horrible memories for me, because I really believe in open communication and everybody has a piece in the family democracy. My husband would mock me all the time and it was interesting he had that memory.
It was very frustrating to me. It was another way that I was undermined for the things that were really important to me.
So, we had this family meeting and my son remembered that my husband said, “We love you very much and we’re getting divorced,” and we all walked out crying.
The amazing thing is that my husband said nothing. He refused to open his mouth and we had rehearsed. We had written out a script. I had written a script and he edited it, because he wanted it to be something that he could control and he said nothing. He just sat there mute and I said the whole thing.
It’s so interesting that my son remembered that it was my ex-husband who said it.
We announced it, my kids all did go out crying and within I would say a half hour, I walked up to my daughter’s room and my two daughters were together. My oldest daughter who was sixteen at the time said, “Mom right now, I just want you to know that I get it. I really understand why you and dad have to get divorced. You really don’t belong together, but I’m being selfish right now, because I’m really sad for me.” It was amazing that she could articulate that.
I remember I took them out to Wal Mart. I just wanted them in the car to talk and cars are the best place to talk to your kids, because it’s not confrontational. It was the beginning of a very long continuing dialogue that we’ve had over the years about divorce and about the two of us and our family.
My kids are great. They’re really healthy emotionally. We talk about everything. That was my biggest fear: they’re going to get totally screwed up.
My kids are pretty smart, and I think what happens in divorce—it certainly happened to me—is that they get to see there’s two separate human beings. In a marriage sometimes your personalities can blend and they don’t know who’s responsible for what kinds of values and what thoughts are being conveyed to the kids.
Living in two different homes, it’s really clear and my kids have developed so much more respect for me as a person, post-divorce. I think we’ve always had an open relationship and I think because of that I was able to have a very frank discussion with them and accept responsibility for what I did, but say, “You know that this is not the cause of our divorce. Divorces don’t happen because of one incident.” And they said, “We know.” And they got that we were totally not suited for each other. They saw it. They didn’t remember any affection. They just said, “You guys are totally mismatched.”
Sandy did everything right —planning the meeting, agreeing a script with her STBX, conducting it together, talking to her kids afterwards, doing an activity with her kids afterwards. Planning for the conversation includes figuring out the “what-ifs” – like what if my STBX doesn’t talk? When people make plans they often forget this step, they just assume the event will follow along the plan and that leaves them surprised and unprepared when the something unanticipated happens.
Go through your planned meeting and identify as many what-ifs as possible … what if your STBX doesn’t come? What if your STBX has already told one of your children? What if one of the children can’t be there? What if your child runs screaming from the room before you’re finished? What if your child has a medical condition such as asthma and your conversation triggers an episode?
First step is just to identify the possibilities. The next step is to identify how you will respond and also consider the likelihood of the possibility actually happening. For example, if your child has anxiety issues and you’re concerned that your conversation might trigger a panic attack, talk to your child’s doctor to put them on notice and to get their recommended treatment plan.
One step I often see omitted from these announcement plans is to check in with your child after a couple of hours, once they’ve had time to process the news and to help them prepare for telling their friends. Ask your child who they want to tell, and role-play that conversation with them. You can also call their friend’s parents to share the news.
I do believe that this conversation will be one of those conversations that your children will remember forever but the details will fade over time, as another of my interviewees, Ashley shares in Remembering The Divorce Conversation. You can also be sure that each of your children will have a different recollection which is a good reminder that each person’s experience of family is different.
What advice would you give to someone about to tell their children? How did you tell your children?
Sandy Weiner is a dating coach at Last First Date where she blogs about dating and offers coaching services for completing your online dating profile. You can also sign up for her free report: Top 3 Mistakes Midlife Daters Make.
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