Explaining Divorce
to Kids

Why it's important for children of divorce to hear-and understand-why their parents split.

Continued from page 1

You may be thinking to yourself, how can that be? We explained the divorce to our kids years ago. We sat them down and carefully went over the reasons. We didn't hide anything that they were old enough to understand.


But that is exactly the point. When you explained the divorce to your children, they were just that—children. The explanation you provide a five-year-old is different from what you tell a ten-year-old and different still from what you say to a fifteen-year-old. One of the striking things about children of divorce is that they continue to work on understanding your divorce all through their childhood and beyond.

As a matter of fact, at each developmental stage they replay the story using their increasingly sophisticated ability to comprehend complex human relationships. By the time the children reach adulthood, they've thought about the divorce and added up what they gained and lost a thousand times.You need to appreciate the fact that by the time they reach adulthood, they're truly ready to understand what you experienced. But they need your help to reach this understanding so they can finally put your divorce behind them and get on with their own lives. They also need your permission and encouragement to talk to you to get the facts straight.

I suggest that you carry on a continuing conversation with your child about the divorce and that you get more candid as he or she gets older. It can begin whenever your child opens a door to the topic. For example, you'll be folding laundry when your twelve-year-old turns to you and says, "My teacher said that people should never divorce. He thinks that they should work things out."


You've been playing tennis with your fifteen-year-old. On the way home he says, "My friend Johnny thinks his parents are going to divorce. He's worried about moving away and that we'll never see each other again."

Think for a moment about what your child is asking. Yes, he's curious about what people say about divorce and what they think of him and you both. But he's also curious about your divorce, about your family history, and what it means to him today. Mostly he is concerned about himself and his own future chances at the brass or gold ring. Perhaps your son was three when you divorced. But now that he's fourteen he wants a new explanation, one befitting his greater maturity. He is right.


So to begin, I suggest you answer the opening question. You can correct the teacher's view—which reflects your child's questioning—by saying, "Yes, people have different ideas about divorce. Some people think it's very wrong and that everybody should stay married. Your dad [or mom] and I feel differently. We divorced because living together made us unhappy. We thought about it a long time before we decided. It was not a rushed decision. But your teacher may be saying that he thinks it was too hard on you kids." Your son has a right to remain silent while he's thinking about what you said. Or he may say, "You bet it was hard." Or he may assure you, "Naw, it was fine. Don't worry, Mom." No matter what his response, you have left the door open to continue the conversation when he's ready…

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