family

Why you should tell your kids you’re getting a divorce on this specific day.

Telling your children you’re getting divorced is never going to be an easy thing to do. Because nobody wants to be responsible for that whole ‘messing your kids up for life’ thing we always hear about. 

Mamamia’s newest podcast, The Split, is here to answer every burning question for you, because with one in three marriages ending in divorce, it’s something we need to talk about.

Child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says the first thing you need to remember when telling your kids you’re separating is that this conversation will stay with them forever. So, no pressure then….

“It’s a loss experience and the truth is, it’s going to be a conversation that most of them will remember for the rest of their lives,” Dr Carr-Gregg explains. 

Listen to host Mandy Nolan talk about ‘breaking up the family’ on The Split. Post continues.

Luckily, delivering the news – without causing negative lasting impacts – is something which can absolutely be done.  

“It really depends on their developmental stage, their personality, their temperament and how resilient they are in general,” Dr Carr-Gregg says. “One size doesn’t fit all. I’ve seen kids breeze through it and just get on with their lives.”

So, how do you navigate this extremely tricky conversation once you know your relationship is over?

“You’ve got to make sure you tell them that they’re loved,” Dr Carr-Gregg advises.

“And make sure the whole family is present. I think it’s good to follow up with each child [if you have more than one child] separately too because often there’s one who might be a little bit more anxious than the other.”

How you approach the chat obviously depends on how old they are too.

Dr Carr-Gregg explains if they’re over the age of seven, you’d say something like: “You know we’ve been having problems and we’ve tried to fix it but things aren’t working out. We love you very much and we just aren’t going to be husband and wife anymore. We’re getting a divorce. It’s not your fault this is happening. Even though things are going to change, we’ll always be a family. That covers virtually everything you need to say.”

“With little kids, you need to be guided by their curiosity,” he continues. “Some of them are going to feign not understanding and some genuinely won’t understand. You have to pay very close attention to their responses.”

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Interestingly he says even when you tell the kids can be key.

“The most important thing, ironically, is the day of the week you do it,” he reveals. “I think you should do it on a Friday.

“That allows them to process it over the weekend. They don’t have school or any other things to distract them.”

Here are Dr Carr-Gregg’s top tips for telling your kids you’re getting a divorce: 

  • Tell the truth.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Reassure them. Let them know that the separation is nothing to do with them. That goes particularly for younger children who engage in magical thinking.
  • Keep them informed. Tell them what’s going to happen the best you can and promise to keep them informed because the one thing children like more than anything else is consistency and predictability and suddenly their world isn’t going to be either of those things.

And in case you wanted to know what you absolutely shouldn’t do when telling your child you’re separating, here are the ‘four cardinal sins’ of communication.

What not to do when telling your child you’re getting divorced:

  • Using children as messengers. If you’re having trouble talking honestly or directly to your ex-partner, you shouldn’t be using the children as conduit for that. 
  • Never ask them to spy. That’s using the kids to your own ends and that’s unacceptable.
  • Character assassination. This is so destructive.
  • Overcompensate. Yes, you have thrown their world into a degree of chaos but you can’t then give them anything they want or take away limits or boundaries. You’ve got to keep being a parent.

We can’t always make the right decisions when there’s so much emotion involved so Dr Carr-Gregg suggests speaking to a professional if you’re worried.

How did you cope – or flourish – during or after your split? Share your tips with us below.

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