Most children feel shocked and confused when their parents tell them that they will be getting a divorce. Children of all ages will likely have many questions after the initial announcement. Here are some common questions and how to answer them in a loving, reassuring, and honest way.
Remember, even if you told your children about your divorce months or years ago, you can still go back and explain more. The wonderful thing about being a parent is that there is a very long “window of opportunity” for most major discussions. You can and will continue to talk about divorce and its ramifications for a long time to come, since it is a key feature of your child’s life.
- Will I go to the same schools, activities, and camps?
You can respond, “We will do our best to keep your routine the same; the same school, the same camps, and the same sports.” This is the best case scenario, and if this is not true, or if this is undecided, tell your child as much information as you have. For example, you could say, “You’ll still go to the same school, but we are not sure yet about swim lessons.”
- Will I have the same friends?
You can say, “We will try our best to keep up with playdates with school friends, although they may not always be at this house. You can see your friends on our street when you’re living with Mom during the week, but you may make other friends when you live with Dad on the weekends.”
- What should I tell people?
Respond by saying, “You can tell people that your parents are getting divorced, and that you will have two homes now. You don’t have to tell anyone anything unless it comes up, or you can tell your friends right away. The choice is yours.”
- Was this my fault?
The answer to this question is always, “Of course not! There is nothing you could have done to prevent this. We both love you very much. You are the best part of our marriage.”
- Which parent is to blame?
Regardless of how the marriage broke down, the answer here should be,“Nobody is to blame. We didn’t get along anymore, and we both decided to divorce.”
- Will you ever get back together?
Even if you’re unsure, “No, I’m sorry” works best when answering this question. You must try your best not to encourage the idea that your divorce is a temporary state. The fantasy that parents will reconcile is very powerful, and even adult children sometimes hope that this will happen with parents who have been divorced for decades. Your job is to ensure that your child can look forward to his new life, not be consumed with the idea that his previous life is retrievable.
- Do you love each other anymore?
You can answer this honestly, but do not leave room for the child to hope that you will reconcile. A good answer is, “We will always love each other because we made you together. But we don’t love each other like people should who stay married.” Another honest answer is “No, we don’t. We used to love each other and now we don’t feel that way anymore.” Always stress that you used to love each other, so that your child does not feel that her birth was a mistake or a regret.
- Did you ever love each other?
Try not to see your marriage as black-and-white, remember the times you loved each other and respond with, “Yes, we did when we got married, and when we had you.” If this is entirely a lie, then you can say, “We thought we did, but we realized that we didn’t. We did have many good times together though.” But try to leave open the possibility that you did feel love at one time. It is important for children to think of themselves as loved and wanted, and this is harder for them if they are visualizing a marriage that was already broken when they were born. Additionally, if a child feels that his birth was designed to fix a marriage, he will feel guilty that he has seemingly failed at this task.
- Do you still love me?
Heartbreaking though this question may be, it is one children sometimes ask in the uncertainty that follows an announcement of divorce. You and your co-parent can respond with “We will always love you so much.” This is the time to be open and expressive about your love for your child. He is experiencing so much confusion, sadness, shock, and anger that it is imperative that he does not doubt your love.
- Will you stop loving me?
Many kids, especially young ones, think that if parents stopped loving one another, they can just as easily and quickly stop loving their kids. Whether or not your child asks this question outright, it is a good idea to say, “Parents love kids forever. We could never stop loving you no matter what.”
Again, even if you have already told your children about your divorce, you can go back and answer any of these questions, or start a discussion again, saying, “I’m just wondering if you guys had any more questions about the divorce. I know the first time we talked about it, it was surprising and you may not have been able to think of everything you wanted to ask.” This is a good way to leave the lines of communication open and show your children that they do not have to be afraid to bring up the topic of divorce. It is essential for your child to feel that any thought or feeling he has about the divorce is okay, as people cannot heal and move on from difficult events if they don’t allow themselves to fully and openly experience their emotions.
This article was excerpted from Dr. Samantha Rodman’s new book, How to Talk to Your Kids About Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family.