Many parents who are at the start of the divorce process don't realize that while they have certain ideas about what they are getting into, their kids usually have no clue at all.
I get calls from those in the process asking how to tell the kids about what is happening, what to say if they are asked this or that. The list goes on.
Below are 10 common questions kids have about divorce and some suggestions on how to respond:
1. Was it my fault?
Many kids blame themselves. "If only I had just cleaned my room when my mom asked," or "if only I had just finished my homework on time," or, "if only I hadn't told dad that mom yelled at me.."
The best response is to reassure your children that they are certainly not at fault. Remind them that you are not divorcing them and that it is mom and dad who made the decision to divorce each other.
2. Will you get back together? Is it really over?
Most kids are hopeful that the divorce will one day end up being a bad dream and they will wake up with their parents together again. When they see their parents getting along at an event, they might think, "Well if they are getting along now maybe they can fix things."
If you are certain your marriage is heading for a divorce and is not just a trial separation, it is important to let your kids know that as soon as possible.
3. If I do something bad will we split too?
"No, we will never split. I will always be your mom and dad will always be your dad. We are still a family, just a different kind of family. Daddy and I both love you no matter if you do good things or bad things so keep on being you."
4. What am I going to tell my friends?
Depending on your child’s age, what their friends think may be very important to them. You can tell your child that there are probably many of his/her friends who are going through the same exact thing or have already gone through it or will in the future. Let them know that your divorce is not a reflection on them, but rather you and your ex-spouse decided to make this decision together and feel it is the best decision for the family.
5. Will you and dad both be at my birthday party?
This question depends on the level of animosity between you and your soon to be ex. It would be best if you both could put your child first and make an effort to be as civil to each other as possible during milestone events. If this is impossible, you can tell your child that he/she can have two separate birthday parties and that they will be able to spend an equal amount of time with each parent on their special day (or weekend).
6. Can I still sleep at Susie's house when it's supposed to be my night at dad's?
That would be up to your ex and hopefully, he will see the importance of allowing your kids to continue to live their life exactly as if you weren't getting divorced. It is important to not make unilateral decisions for your kids when they are supposed to be with their dad. It is best to speak with your ex prior to your child doing so and then suggest to your child that they talk to their dad.
7. Dad says I can eat in my room.. Why can't I do that here?
Again, it is important for you and your ex to put up a united front and stick with the same general guidelines as each other. That being said, at times, one parent might feel they want to be more relaxed with certain rules. If not eating in their room is an important rule in your house, you can tell your child that you make the rules in your house and dad makes them in his, however, there are certain rules that you make together as a family and your child should know they cannot go to the other parent if they don't like the answer they get from the other one they asked.
8. Do you still love daddy?
"Of course I still love daddy, but not in the same way I used to. It takes a certain kind of love to make a marriage last and daddy and I don't have that anymore. There are certain things about daddy that I will always love, mostly that because of him I have you."
Kids will be confused about the different meanings of love. You can also explain to them that some things about divorce might not make sense to them until they are older.
9. Where will I live?
Every situation is different, however, it is important for your child to know the schedule as much as they possibly can. If it is confusing for them, you can keep a calendar in your house to show your child whose house they will be staying at each night.
10. Will my life ever be normal again?
This is probably a question the adults involved also ask themselves. The answer is a resounding "YES", however, it will be a new normal. Your child will eventually get used to living in two households and going back and forth. They will learn the ins and outs of their new lives as time goes on and different patterns will emerge. The important point to drive home here is that there is no such thing as a universal normal and you will all be on this journey together and will be there for each other through it all.
It is imperative that your child knows that he/she can always come to you to ask whatever questions they may have and that they will continue to have your love and support as well as that of their father's.