What You Say Matters

talking to children about divorce

In our work, we often assist parents who are trying survive and thrive through their divorce and they express a deep need to protect their children from what we all know as one of life’s toughest transitions.  Depending on the age of the kids, we may judge their ability to digest what is happening.  It’s fair to say, however, that many times we might be projecting our own hopes in place of what is really being felt by them.  The reasons parents split can be as benign as having outgrown the marriage with little ill will towards each other or as acute as one of the parents pursuing illicit or illegal activities. 

Remember that children often understand their family as their world and if that splits and part of their world leaves, they can believe that either they had some part in causing it or could have prevented it.  Most of the time, they just want the family to go back to the way they knew it before the divorce was announced.  If the reason for the divorce was personally painful for either parent, they may be tempted to explain the cause of the breakup.  Or they may be trying to reassure a child that they have at least one “good” parent.

Talking to Children About Divorce

Developmentally, it matters what age your child is when this transition happens, but there is something that is universally true for children of any age.  It matters what we say about the divorce and about the other parent.  Let’s stand in their shoes for a minute to see what happens if I downgrade the children’s father, for example.  My children have to decide if I’m right or just angry.  If I’m just angry, they may well think less of me eventually because I dealt with my anger by tearing down their dad.  If what I’m complaining about matches their experience, then they have some real crappy choices, 1) they’re not supposed to love the only other parent they have, or 2) one-half of them (the children) must be no good.

Do not be deluded if you are belittling the ex to friends and family that your children will not hear that as if you’d said it directly to them.

With time, children grow to determine how they think about each parent.  There is no currency in trying to shape how they see the other parent except to encourage a relationship in the first place.

Bonnie A. Sewell, CFP®, CDFA™, AIF® is NOT AN ATTORNEY AND DOES NOT PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE. All information he provides is financial in nature and should not be construed or relied upon as legal or tax advice.  Individuals seeking legal or tax advice should solicit the counsel of competent legal professionals knowledgeable about the divorce laws in their own geographical areas or CPAs qualified to provide tax advice.

DISCLOSURE:  All of the above is believed to be accurate but should be considered informational only and should not be considered financial, tax, or legal advice.  Seek advice from a paid professional under contract to you. 

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