Questions About Divorce
What Your Children
Want to Know
The questions about divorce that children have usually revolve around how the divorce will effect their lives. For most kids, even the word divorce is scary let alone what it actually means in their day-to-day lives. Children typically have little idea about what is going to happen. Their notion of divorce is often full of misunderstandings or just plain incorrect information. They need their parents to guide them through this huge change in their family with the best information possible.
You Don't Have to Know All the Answers to Your Kids' Questions about Divorce
Parents sometimes feel put on the spot to answer their children's questions about divorce perfectly when they may not yet even know the correct answer. It helps to think through some of the questions about divorce that could arise so that you can be prepared when your kids start with the questions. Remember, there is no shame in saying "I don't know" when in fact you don't know. It is much more honest than making something up or avoiding the question about divorce altogether. Besides, most children can spot a "parent con-job" a mile off.
First, listen carefully to your child's questions about divorce so that you are clear about what they are asking. And second, be as honest and forthcoming as is developmentally appropriate for your child. Children can only understand what their age allows. That said, you must also avoid the temptation to "tell all" simply as a means of influencing your child to side with you. That's a big "no-no" and falls squarely into the category of dirty divorce games that sadly some parents play.
When answering your children's questions about divorce, keep your answers simple and child-oriented. Your answers should be tailored to your children's needs rather than yours.
Kids Want to Know
Here are a few of the most frequently-asked children's questions about divorce along with information about how parents might effectively handle them. As has been said in other areas on this site, you are the best resource for your children. You know them best and understand what works and what doesn't work. Base your answers on what you know your kids can understand. Keep in mind that their questions about divorce may be different depending upon their developmental stage.
Questions About Divorce - #1
Why did you stop loving Mommy/Daddy?
This question is usually on the minds of most children whose parents are divorcing and the answer you give them is extremely important. It may be disguising an even scarier question for children, which is, "If you can stop loving him/her, will you also stop loving me?" It is very important for parents to help their children understand that the love between two adults is entirely different than the love parents have for their children. Children must know that parents' love for their children never goes away or changes. Divorce changes how the family lives - it does not change the fact that children have two parents whom they love and who love them. Children need to know that the divorce is between the adults and not the children. This of course requires a big commitment on the part of both parents to protect their children from any conflict that may be present between the adults. They also must be dedicated to having both parents remain actively and responsibly involved in parenting.
Children need a great deal of reassurance that both parents love them and are going to be available to them. They also need to be told that they can continue to love everyone in the family just as they always have.
Questions About Divorce - #2
Will you ever get back together?
Most children have a fantasy that their parents will eventually get back together. In fact sometimes they think that they can even engineer the reunion. This is not healthy for them.
Children must be told very clearly and without equivocation that Mommy and Daddy will not get back together again. You can let them know that you understand that they wish it could be different and that you also understand that it would make them very happy if you could reunite. But it isn't going to happen. You tried for a long time and it would only cause more pain and sadness to try again.
What if You Aren't Sure?
If you are separated and not sure if you are going to divorce, tell your children something to the effect that you don't yet know how things are going to work out. If there is even the slightest hint of doubt as to whether you and your child's other parent will get back together, don't say that it is going to happen. Please, for your child's sake, wait until you know for sure. Don't hand out false hope because it is too emotionally difficult for you to say the hard truth about what you are feeling.
If one of you wants to get back together and the other doesn't, please don't fuel your children's hopes. Similarly don't tell your children that it all hinges on what the other parent does. This is blatant manipulation of your children and potentially very harmful to them. It also sets the other parent up to be the "bad guy"- the one who is causing the divorce.
Questions About Divorce - #3
Where will I live?
Think through what your living plans are going to be (even if they are temporary) before you talk with your children. This means that you also will have to have at least a basic idea of a parenting schedule. This may change as the divorce progresses, but begin by crafting a parenting plan that allows your children to spend time with both of you. Tell your children how and when they will see each of you. If you are the parent who has moved to a new residence, take your kids to see the new place. Give them a chance to explore and get a feel for your place. Work to make your new home a comfortable, inviting place for your children.
Question About Divorce - #4
Why did you break up our family?
Divorce often involves complex situations and issues that are beyond children's abilities to understand. And for most situations it isn't appropriate to discuss the details with kids. Help your children avoid assigning blame to one parent or the other. You might want to say that you tried for a long time to make things better, but the marriage was impossible to fix.
Emphasize that you are still a family - just a different kind of family than you used to be. Tell them that you are both still parents and will be around and available. This statement of course requires parents to commit to being around and available. Please don't say this if you don't mean it.
#5 of Questions About Divorce
Am I going to get a new mommy/daddy?
Deep in your heart you must embrace and support this very important statement about your children. They need both of you. Parents are not replaceable. It is critical that you respect your child's love for their other parent. Don't try to insert your new partner into the role of mom or dad. That title is exclusively reserved. Children benefit from having many adults in their lives who care for and about them. New partners can easily step into the roles of friend, mentor, coach, stepparent.
Questions About Divorce - #6
Do I have to go to Dad's (or Mom's)?
This is a heart-wrenching question for everyone. To begin with, as long as you know that your child is safe, it is important that she spend parenting time with both of you. It may be tempting to keep her from going with the other parent, especially if she are saying that she doesn't want to go. But, it is not in their best interests to allow children to dictate the terms of parenting time. That may sound harsh to you. But just as we don't allow our children to say whether or not they will be going to school or going to bed, we also cannot encourage them to decide when or if they are going to see their other parent.
Of course it is critical to find out why your child is balking at going with the other parent. Sometimes it is as simple as wanting to stay with you so that he can play with his friends in the neighborhood. Whatever the reason, work together to find out what is bothering your child and how to resolve the issues. This is one place where your kids really need you to work as a team for them.
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