How Much Should You Tell Your Child
About Your Divorce?
By Susie and Otto Collins
Patricia and Scott have decided to get a divorce.
After 13 years of marriage, this was a gut-wrenching
decision to make. But after several years of
tension, bickering and an affair, they both knew it
was time to split up.
They are partly getting a divorce for their 3
This might sound odd to others, but, to Patricia and
Scott, trying to pretend that everything is okay in
their marriage in front of the kids was draining for
them both-- and it didn't seem to work anyway.
Now, these loving parents are trying to find the
best way to talk with their kids-- who are ages 11,
8 and 6 years old-- about the divorce and upcoming
changes for them all.
If you are getting a divorce, you might be
struggling with some of the same questions that
Patricia and Scott have?
No parent going through a divorce wants to burden
his or her
children with more than they can handle.
- How much should I shield them from what has
- Do I tell them that my partner (or I) had an affair?
- Should I be honest about my fears for our future
finances, scheduling or other issues)?
- How much choice should we give our children about
which of us they
will live with?
- Is it okay for me to keep secrets from my children
really going on?
- How open should I be with them about my intense
At the same
particularly if you are living with your kids, you
might find it
exhausting to keep secrets and always put on a
"happy face" for their
Focus on the needs of your children.
First and foremost, pay attention to what your children need.
This can be tricky, because parents have a bad habit
that they always know what their children's needs
time to really tune in to the questions and comments
that come from
your kids' mouths.
You can also look at their behaviors for additional
clues about what
they need right now. Are they acting out or
might tip you off that some action or intervention
from you is called
It's always a good idea to directly ask your
children what it is
that they need.
Listen in an engaged way and be sure
to ask follow
up questions and then create a plan so that this
need can be met
either by you or another person.
How much is too much (or too little)information?
Age is not always the best way to determine how open
and honest you
should be with your child about the divorce. Be
realistic about the
maturity level and particular sensitivities and
fears of each of your
We don't recommend that you ever lie to your kids.
undoubtedly find out the truth at some point and
then feel betrayed.
Don't damage their trust in you through this experience.
You can be honest about the divorce and what will
happen in terms of
living arrangements without sharing the most painful
details of what
This is your call to make.
Patricia and Scott chose to sit down with each of
individually on the same evening to tell them about
advance, they agreed about what specific information
to share with
each child. They also agreed to answer all
Above all, Patricia and Scott promised one another
that they would
not use this discussion-- or those that happen in
the coming days and
months-- as a way to pit their children against one
parent or the
Their priority was to help each of their children
understand and be
informed of what was going to happen and, most
importantly, that they
would continue to be loved and cared for by both of
Make sure that your own need for support is being
It's also vital that you gather a support team of
resources around yourself. Don't rely on any of your
kids (no matter
how mature he or she is) as a sounding board,
advisor or shoulder to
Instead, make a list of every single person that you
know to whom
you could turn when you need support.
Be varied in
your list of
people. There might be some you might turn to for
advice, others to
listen to you blow off steam and others who can help
care for your
children when you need that.
Divorce is rarely easy or without emotional pain.
This is true for
the adults involved as well as the children.
Whether it's in partnership with your soon-to-be ex
or by yourself,
you can talk with your kids about divorce and
upcoming changes from a
place of love, respect, assurance and honesty.
decision to do so can make a huge positive