How do I tell our kids we’re getting divorced?
By having what in Dutch is called a paraplugesprek (umbrella conversation), which could be described in English as a safety-net conversation:
In this conversation you break the news to your children, in words they will understand, that you are splitting up. You – as their parents – should do this together. With this approach, you create a kind of ‘umbrella’ above their heads, or a safety net for them to feel supported.
One goal of the safety net conversation is for children to get more clarity about the situation. It should be made clear that although you are separating as partners, this does not change your relationship to them as their parents. After all, the two of you will always be their parents.
Another important aspect of the conversation is to ensure your children that the divorce is not their fault. This may seem obvious, but for many children it is not.
Here are a few guidelines for what you can tell your children:
- That you are splitting up.
- That the divorce is not their fault.
- That you will always be there to take care of them.
- That you will always love them.
When is a good time to tell your kids about your divorce? As soon as possible, even if you aren’t yet sure what exactly is going to happen. Children often feel that their parents are going to get a divorce. This dialogue with your children, also referred to as a goodbye process (scheidingsmelding in Dutch), gives them clarity about the changes and creates the opportunity for them to process their emotions.
Find a good moment to sit down for this conversation. A Friday evening or a Saturday, for example, so they don’t have to go straight back to school the next day with all their emotions and questions. Do notify school that you will be breaking the news to your kids, so that their teachers will understand if they are a bit quiet and withdrawn.
Are the kids being persistent in asking for the reason behind the divorce? Then it depends on the age of the child just how much you tell them. An older child may be better able to understand the situation than a younger child. It used to be the case that parents hardly shared their feelings with their children. Nowadays, the general tendency is for children to be more involved in the emotional life of their parents. This also means being more open with them. Just be careful not to “point fingers” or imply that one parent is to blame. This is rarely the case. Doing so may cause your child to experience difficult feelings, putting them in a conflict of loyalty. A child just wants to be able to love both parents. This is made difficult when one parent is portrayed as the “culprit” in the divorce.