3 Things to Tell Your Kids When You're Getting Divorced

Love & Learn 31

The other day I made an offhand remark to a friend about something my soon-to-be-ex-husband had done that I found irritating, to put it mildly. Then I realized that my kiddos were right there with me, and overheard my gah I can’t believe he did that(!) comment.

I paused my conversation and launched into my go-to speech whenever something negative comes up about their dad or anything about our impending divorce. “Girls, this divorce is not your fault ...” I didn’t have a chance to finish as both my daughters rolled their eyes and interrupted, “... and you and Daddy both love us very much.”

Divorce with kids is rough, man, and trying to decide what to tell them, how much to tell them, when to tell them, etc., is no easy decision. Everyone has an opinion, and make no mistake, you will be judged for whatever you decide to do. Because of course you didn’t stay married ‘for the kids,’ so now you’re supposed to be an extra perfect parent. You know, to make up for your inability to stay married.

Anyway. You have the people that say you should be completely transparent and reveal the gory details. Then you have the people that think kids should be left completely unaware of what went down in the marriage to protect them and also it’s none of their business.

I think the best answer is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I think it is their business, in part, if for no other reason than Mommy and Daddy don’t live together or do that gross kissing thing anymore. They’re going to notice. That said, they really don’t need to know about my inner turmoil or what the straw that broke my marriage’s back was.

No matter how much or how little you decide to reveal to your kids about your divorce, there are three key things that you should tell them.

  1. "This is not your fault." All kids have a tendency to self-blame, so repeat this one over and over. Don’t just say it, live it too. If your child hears, “If only your father had made dinner once in a while,” your child will hear, “If I hadn’t needed dinner, maybe my parents would still be married.”
  2. “We both love you very, very much.” Does this one even need an explanation? Even if your co-parent doesn’t act like it, you can use the old fallback of, “He just has a hard time showing it.”
  3. “Daddy is not a bad person/jerk/asshat.” Ok, so you don’t have to state this one specifically, but do refrain from name-calling. Your kids are half you and half your ex. If you resort to personal attacks, your kids won’t hear that their dad is a douche canoe; they’ll hear that they’re a douche canoe, because they are half of him. Then they might ask what douche means or, worse, look it up on the Internet, so really it’s better to just avoid the whole thing.

When you’ve done all that, then snuggle, hug, run, play, eat cookies together, and generally show them that they are wonderful little human beings capable of great joy. The best lesson you can teach by example to your kids after your split with their dad is that their happiness is not dependent on their parents’ marital status.

How much do you think kids need to know about their parents' divorce?


Image via Jenny Erikson

child custody, exes, family


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EmmaF... EmmaFromEire

Sorry to hear about the divorce. that's a lovely pic of you and your daughters!

nonmember avatar grayswindir

Those are the right things to say. Bad-mouthing an ex can come back to bite you. If the kids are halfway intelligent and they have a bad relationship with the ex- they may blame you for interfering in their relationship via your comments. Let them develop their own relationship with the ex and be supportive.

Be aware, if your kids are older your actions will be far more important than your words. They already know you're violating the oath you took to love someone your whole life. They will not trust your words, since they know another person couldn't- and you didn't take an oath to them. Your actions will speak far louder and be more reassuring than anything you tell them.

nonmember avatar Jeff

Perhaps you don't need to say it over and over. Why do you think they roll their eyes and repeat it? Cuz they DON'T BELIEVE IT and your repeating it over and over just reinforces their disbelief.

nonmember avatar Carl Pham

Doesn't really matter what you tell them. Because your actions have already delivered a message to them, loud and clear. They'll only discover that message when they reach adulthood, however, and try to form adult attachments of their own. Hopefully you'll still be around them, so you can say "It's not your fault" and "I still love you" with more than words, for example by paying for their stay in detox or helping raise a grand-kid by an unknown father.

nonmember avatar Bob

So I can say, "Mom's a ho and she is bumping uglies with 'uncle' Jerry." I know this is a rag for women but sheesh a little bit of objectivity would be nice.

nonmember avatar Scott M

Mom has been on the prowl for a bigger better deal for the last few years and she's finally found it. I and your dad still love you but you'll be shuffled back and forth between your dad and I for the next few years. Holidays are going to be terrible because they will become just power struggles between your dad and I to see who can force the other to submit. You kids will probably be out of high school by the time this new relationship tanks, so don't worry. Love mom.

nonmember avatar JimMtnViewCa

Number one is quite important, in my experience. To state things more forcefully I recommend saying "this is not your fault, in fact we stayed together longer that we would have otherwise because of you."

nonmember avatar Halfcanadian

You know, if dad isn't a bad person/jerk/asshat, then counseling may be cheaper, and better for your daughters, than divorce.
Seriously, look into it.

nonmember avatar Rose

JimMtnViewCa - Are you being sarcastic? That comment still puts the fault with the kids. You've been unhappy for years but sucked it up for them? Way to make a kid wish never to have been born.

There are no good things to say to the kids about divorce.

nonmember avatar grayswindir

Being upfront- I'm a single Dad. Mom moved a couple of miles away after 20yrs, kids in Jr high and high school. Each kid handled it differently but-
*Talk is cheap, whiskey cost money. Your actions are more important than words.
*Make your home a home with them. Do not drag others into their home and effectively make them visitors.
*Call your kids every night before bed when they are with the other parent. Let the other parent do the same.
*If you've got primary custody or full like I do, let the other parent visit. Leave so the kids can have time alone with the ex for at least a little time during the week.
* Mom and Dad both love you. Yeah, but we tore apart your family anyway. This gets compounded by jumping into another relationship. Kid start to think they were the impediment to happiness. Live single while kids live with you, it sucks in some ways it's indescribably rewarding in others.
* They know one of you at least can stop loving someone you've sworn to love. They will know that can happen with them as well. "You swore till death, you're both alive."

*Death is easier on a child (generally) than divorce. They understand death
wasn't a choice.
- They may prefer to think of the other parent or you as having died. Because if that parent that loved them and wanted to be with them died, it means at one time they were real and not an act. Let them work it out however they need to.

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