I worked with two clients recently who define the polar extremes in approaching “The Conversation.” The heartbreaking one no one ever anticipated or wanted: “We’re getting a divorce.” The first was a couple in mediation who are working so hard to find the right time, tone and text. We explored developing the “third story.” Not mom’s truth or perspective, not dad’s, because each views the cause of and rationale for the divorce differently. People always do. But there are usually common understandings spouses agree upon; these form the basis for their shared, i.e., less confusing, explanation to their children. Tears flowed as we explored the least damaging way to shape their talk. Lucky kids.
The second was a woman who told her husband in the heat of an argument that their marriage could not be saved and she was getting a divorce. He raged out of the room, summoned the children for a “family meeting” and told them that their mom doesn’t love him anymore and she was leaving him, divorcing him. “What do you think about that, kids?” he screamed. No surprise the kids were like deer in headlights until they disintegrated into tears. Not-so-lucky kids.
It isn’t easy. But there are ways to handle this conversation that make it manageable and productive. Nothing will make it easy. But it doesn’t have to be awful. Check out http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-scharff/telling-the-kids-about-the-split_b_3336958.html. In addition to shaping your shared “third-story,” here are some principles to consider:
1. Accept that you don’t know how to do this. Why should you? But research and experience exists which you can draw on. In the Collaborative process, trained child specialists can be called upon to help in powerful ways.
2. Find an outlet for your pain and adjustment that doesn‘t involve the children. They can’t be shielded completely but they don’t need to know all the nuances of what went wrong in your marriage. They especially don’t need to know that you did everything right and their other parent did everything wrong. Counsel with a friend who’s done this well, or a trusted pastor/priest or a therapist. Kids have their own adjustment. They can’t manage yours.
3. Work out together how the children will be told. Discuss timing (After school is out for the summer? On a Friday so they have the weekend to process? After an important recital or game?). If possible, allow the children a couple weeks or so before the actual separation so they have time to adjust to the idea before visiting mom or dad’s new place. Commit to keeping blame–however tempting–out of the conversation. Some parents believe it’s a gift for the children to know “the truth.” But that begs the question: yours or your spouse’s? Don’t ask your children to figure out who’s “right.” Think about the best place for this conversation to occur. That’s usually at home so kids have their rooms to retreat to if needed. But maybe grandma, grandpa or an aunt has been the person in whom your child confides. If so, you may want to ensure their availability.
Be those parents who care enough about your children to do this in the least damaging way possible. I’ve seen many, many parents whose kids were given the gift of a careful conversation. Let us know if we can help.
Wishing you wisdom,