Some surprises are wonderful. Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark on the HBO series Game of Thrones, surprised a fan’s viewing party by showing up, snacks in hand. Great surprise; lots of fun; a good time was had by all. Other surprises are not so fun, like the folks who woke up to find a tractor-trailer that slid off an icy road, stopping mere feet from their front door.
During a divorce with children involved, avoid unpleasant surprises. Your own kids do not want to be nearly run over with the news that Mom and Dad are divorcing, for five solid reasons:
1. They Need to Know the Path Forward
Before you even begin to talk to your children about divorce, put yourself in their shoes. Not easy, we know, but try this: remember being fired (or imagine being fired) from a job you loved.
This thought exercise is to get you to see the main reason to talk, early on, about the divorce. Your job loss left you startled, in pain; cold loneliness swept over you. These are the same feelings your children will feel. What was once secure is now insecure. What was once a known path forward in life is now lost to them. You need to let them know of your divorce early in the process so they have a lot of time to recover, with both their Mom and Dad to help.
If you think and feel about the divorce from your children’s perspective, you will be tuned into their needs more than yours, which is vital. This brings us to the second major reason.
2. You Want to Put Them First Always
You and your wife may have a thousand reasons to divorce, but your children are the reason not to divorce. Separate your own needs from theirs and put their needs ahead of your own.
What do your kids need? They need to feel loved, safe, and secure. Give them all of that however you can, and if you cannot immediately provide security (because you do not know how life will settle out), help them to see the security they have now, and they will be more secure very soon.
Hard as it may be for an adult to hear, children are very egocentric. They care little for your unhappiness or happiness except when it affects them. They are not interested in conversations about things your wife did to make you miserable; she is still their Mom, so keep that talk to yourself.
You cannot put their needs first if you are engulfed in sadness, guilt, anger or resentment. Get yourself in order (talk therapy, a spiritual adviser, or your lawyer) and then turn your focus on your children.
3. It Can Help You with Positive Perspective
Talking to your children about an upcoming divorce does not have to be a negative experience. The greatest gift any couple can give their children is a happy marriage, but if that is simply not to be, honesty will make many lives, not just your own, happier.
Divorce can actually have positive effects on children, if you and your wife talk rationally about the kids’ future. Perhaps shared custody is a great solution. Perhaps a visitation schedule that inconveniences Mom and Dad but greatly benefits the kids is exactly the kind of sacrifice called for. Your children seeing both their parents happy and at least cordial with each other is a very positive experience.
4. Remove Rumor from the Equation
Another great reason to talk to children about divorce is to prevent rumor and conjecture from overwhelming their minds. The older child may begin a whisper campaign against a parent, feeding nonsense to your younger children. You and your wife are the authority figures and should be the source of truth. You can squelch rumors quickly.
Part of rumor control, say the experts at LiveScience, is to ensure your kids do not blame themselves for the divorce. Says Dr. Michael Yogman, a Cambridge, MA pediatrician, “Children need to understand that they did not cause the divorce, and have their questions answered honestly, at their level of understanding.”
5. Team Up Against Teen Torment
Teenage children can be difficult to talk to during a divorce. For the very reason that you can expect a strong and negative reaction, you must talk to your teenagers early, and preferably as a Mom and Dad team. Our advice is to talk to the teens, talk some more, listen a lot, and let them have their space to process. Both parents should keep a routine and keep house rules in place.
Get Advice from a Father’s Rights Attorney
At The Firm for Men, we’re more than lawyers representing men’s issues. We understand the challenges and difficulties of talking to your own kids about divorce and other sensitive subjects. Call us at 757-383-9184 to schedule a consultation. As advocates for fathers, we can help with advice, direction and much more. We’re located in the heart of Virginia Beach and are proud to serve all of the beautiful Hampton Roads area from Suffolk to Norfolk, Chesapeake to Newport News.