How Do I Tell my Kids I’m Getting a Divorce?

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Attorney Lisa Gill joins us with Jessica Shea, owner of Forward Counseling, to discuss how to tell children parents are divorcing. It’s a delicate, but important step in the divorce process. A thanks to Gill Family Law for sponsoring this important article.

When working with a family that is divorcing, our office prepares our clients for ANYTHING that may come up during their divorce proceedings. In my own divorce, and in cases I’ve handled as an attorney, protecting and safeguarding children are at the heart of the matter.

Parent: In simplest terms, how should we tell our kids that we’re getting a divorce?

Jessica’s answer: Research has shown that it’s not the actual divorce that harms the kids
and causes depression, self-doubt, or other trauma. It’s the high conflict between the
parents. If parents can coparent cooperatively, the children have a higher rate of
maintaining peace and a healthy mindset.

The parents will need to work together and plan what to say during the delivery to the
children. Both parents should be present — it shouldn’t be one parent or the other that tells the children. The family needs to have this discussion all together. Then, give as few
details as possible, and keep the language easy. Use terms for the kids to understand,
according to their age. Let them know of any immediate logistical changes, such as who
is living where, changes to sports or extra-curricular transportation, and maybe even visitation agreements. They always need to know what to expect.

Afterwards, allow them to have their reactions, even if it is anger, sobbing, or lots of questions. Throughout the conversation, reassure them that they are loved — by BOTH OF YOU.

Parent: What if they are very young?

Jessica’s answer: Keep it short and sweet, without details.
Lisa’s answer: There are actually some good books and suggested games that can help.

single mom after a divorce

Parent: What about pre-teens and teenagers?

Jessica’s answer: It will be the same. Let them react, but don’t join in any yelling. Try to
remain calm, and reassure them that you plan to coparent peacefully, and that you love
them.

Lisa’s answer: If this hasn’t been your style in the past, or if your children have seen
fighting between you both, take this time to create a reset. If you can both commit to
being peaceful around the kids, and move forward in an open manner with your
children, that’s going to be best. Even if it doesn’t feel natural, it’s the best way to move
forward.

Parent: So the kids have been told and everyone is on the same page, now what?

Lisa’s answer: We encourage our clients to take care of themselves. Divorce is incredibly
stressful, and decisions are made best when we’re rested and working to minimize
the stress as much as possible. Often times clients will enroll their children in therapy, but
we suggest that they also have their own therapist. There will be things that you’ll want
to discuss that can’t be covered with the kids in the same session.

Jessica’s answer: Divorce is such a huge adjustment for everyone. It may include
symptoms of anxiety and depression. These feelings may be completely new, or a recurrence of old symptoms. Take solace that the worst of it is the first year. The immense volume of change has its ups and downs, and the way you feel is completely normal. Go to
therapy, join a gym, cultivate new hobbies. You’ll have to grieve this change, even if you
ultimately wanted the divorce. Go ahead and be sad. I give you permission to ugly cry! Feeling these feelings in the moment is good for you and helps with post traumatic growth. Just keep going.

Parent: What if I start to get questions from the kids about wanting to know details?

Jessica’s answer: Ask the kids how they feel about what they’re asking you. Work to
understand where the questions are coming from and validate their feelings regardless
of what the answer is to their question. Your kids want you to understand how they feel
and are desperate for adult validation and support, especially teens.

Lisa’s answer: When working with a family that is divorcing, our office prepares our clients for ANYTHING that may come up during their divorce proceedings. In my own divorce, and in cases I’ve handled as an attorney, protecting and safeguarding children are at the heart of the matter.

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Lisa Gill and Jessica Shea, along with Cindy MacAulay, forensic accountant at Dixon
Hughes Goodman, LLP, have joined forces to offer a monthly Second Saturday
Workshop for women that explains and answers questions about the process of divorce
including the legal, emotional, and financial aspects of divorce.

These workshops are currently offered each Second Saturday of the month. The next workshop will be held September 11th. To book a consultation with Gill Family Law, please call (901) 667-8977 or email [email protected]

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