How to Answer Your Children’s Questions About Your Divorce
Divorce can be a confusing time for both spouses, but it’s especially confusing for young children who have never experienced divorce before. The questions they ask are inevitable, as your children establish their understanding of the world on your actions, words, and decisions. How you answer the questions your children ask will depend on their age, maturity, and understanding of the topic. Below, father and author Wayne Parker discusses some general best practices for answering your children’s questions about divorce.
Caitlin and Sarah’s mom and dad have been divorced for a couple of years now. It was hard on their girls to have to change so much of their lives and lifestyles. But fortunately, their mom and dad are still both involved in their lives and both still feel loved by both mom and dad. But lately, Caitlin has started asking questions about why they were divorced. She will be starting junior high soon, and her dad is wondering what he should tell her when she asks about the reasons for her parents’ divorce.
Caitlin’s dad has a tough call to make here. Tell her too much or in the wrong way, he will drive a wedge between Caitlin and him, or between Caitlin and her mom. Ignore the question and he runs the risk of having Caitlin’s mom share her perspective and perhaps make him seem less in her eyes than he should.
Most parenting experts conclude that what you tell a child about the reasons for her parents’ divorcing depends a lot on the age and maturity of the child, and whether or not some of the reasons are obvious.
So, here are some good general rules and things to consider when preparing for one of those “Why did you get a divorce?” discussions that are sure to come.
Why did you get a divorce? Behavioral therapist Steve Kalas divides the reasons for divorce into three general categories:
- Divorce as a moral demand. If your spouse was abusive, degrading, or a criminal, the divorce was necessary to prevent self-destruction or further evil to others.
- Divorce due to betrayal. If your or your partner had one or more affairs, announced she was gay, robbed you blind or was mentally unbalanced and refused treatment, the divorce was likely due to a lack of trust and a desire to be free from such behaviors.
- Divorce due to marital malaise. In these cases, spouses simply grew apart, fell out of love, failed to meet one another’s expectations, gained weight, got lazy, or took some other similar action which resulted in the divorce.
How, what and when you tell the children the reasons depends entirely on which scenario is most reflective of your divorce. Generally speaking, the reasons for the divorce if it is in the “moral demand” category will be obvious and should be shared with the children. In the other two categories, it largely depends on the child’s age, awareness and maturity.