When my husband and I finally decided to divorce three months ago, we felt a lot of relief. But we had concerns. What are we going to tell the children? How are we going to tell the children? How are we going to answer their questions?
Through talking with each other and with therapists, we figured out a few steps that helped us decide what to say and how to say it. As well as how to deal with some of those questions that have popped up.
1. Keep an open line of communication between the two parties whenever possible (and as long as it is physically and emotionally safe for both parties).
We realize that our situation, just like everyone else’s, is unique. We are in a position where we are communicating and working together to come up with solutions that put our children first. (Which is honestly something we had a tough time with in our marriage). There are no safety or domestic violence scenarios here, which would complicate things further. But from the get-go, we decided that whatever was going on between us needed to stay between us and not filter down to our children.
We began talking daily, usually after we put the kids on the bus and before we had to get ready for work. We planned our next steps, what we needed from each other, and the timing we needed to prepare for the next step. We discussed it when we thought the other person was moving too quickly. When new feelings arose, we discussed those. It was the first time in our entire relationship that every thought and feeling was on the table. And it felt good to live like that as we separated, even though we couldn’t do that when we were married.
2. Seek professional help (talk therapists, lawyers, mediators, etc.) and friends/family you can trust.
We took two full months of talking with therapists and between ourselves before telling the kids what was happening. We needed to give ourselves the grace that this was a significant change for our family structure and family dynamic. We also wanted everything out in the open that we could foresee possibly affecting our children. Couples therapy opened the door to us talking again. But our first open and honest conversations happened after the kids went to bed at night or after they got on the bus in the morning. These conversations laid the groundwork for us to be more comfortable deciding to separate and divorce.
Recommendations from trusted friends and professionals were also helpful in finding our lawyer, marriage/family therapist, divorce mediator, etc. It is also important to have strong support systems in the way of trusted family and friends. We are both lucky to have friend circles who have not judged us for making this decision and have gone out of their way to offer support and space to vent whenever needed.
3. Rehearse the talk and plan how to answer any questions that arise.
Our children are still quite young, so we had to be extremely thoughtful about how we approached the timing of this talk and the words we used to tell them. My biggest concern was that I didn’t want them to blame themselves for this split. One of the ways we discussed to try and thwart this from the get-go was to never say anything about parenting in our talks with them. This was a problem between two adults; we know we will be much happier when we are no longer married.
We knew we wanted this talk to be short and sweet (and it turned into about a 5-minute conversation). We needed to address the issues we thought would be important to them: Scheduling (who would be in the house on which days), where the kids would be living, and letting them know we are still here for them even when we aren’t physically with them. We are “nesting” right now when the children remain in the home, and the parents switch in and out on specified days. This has presented its own set of issues for the two of us, but it is really important the kids remain in one home for now, and we have not wavered on that.
4. Be a safe space for your children.
This includes not discussing frustrations about the other parent or “badmouthing” them in front of the children. Be available emotionally to listen to their concerns, answer their questions without judgment, and not give them more information than they can handle.
Three months into this process of uncoupling, this is where we are now. I know things will be difficult, sad, stressful, overwhelming, and exciting at times. All the emotions are new, and we are not experts. No one goes into marriage thinking that divorce will be the outcome, but ultimately it is the best decision for us.
This process is a work in progress, and we are still new to figuring out how to make our new reality work for us. The information in this article is not meant as a substitute for seeking your help own professional advice and talk therapy with therapists of your choice. But I hope that it can help others out there going through a similar situation that we currently are.