As a dad going through a divorce, telling your kids may not be the first thing you think about, but it’s one of the most important things you will have to do as you begin the divorce process. You will have many personal issues to occupy your time and mind, but you can’t forget that your kids are going through a divorce too. Issues involving kids and divorce require special care. It’s crucial that you dedicate the time to telling your kids about what is happening in a way that will best serve them.

Don’t Put Off Telling the Kids

It’s easy to put thoughts of the kids and divorce aside while handling the seemingly more complex and pressing legal, financial and logistic issues that typically surround a divorce. The kids, however, are very aware of what is going on between their parents and what changes are taking place in their lives. Kids have many questions, concerns and needs of their own. They will rely on you to be there for them to help them through the separation and divorce, and to help them adjust to their new life.

Advocates for children agree that it is important for parents to let their kids know what is happening as early in the divorce process as possible. The kids should also be assured and re-assured that their feelings and questions matter. Children of parents who are divorcing should hear from their parents that they may express their feelings and ask questions at any point in the process. As a dad going through a divorce, you should be ready to answer those questions about kids and divorce, and to provide assurance and comfort your kids.

Kids Need To Be Able To Ask Questions

While kids should not have to worry about their parents’ legal issues and personal disagreements, things do happen in the heat of the moment. It’s important that the kids not feel as if they are caught in the middle of something over which they have no say or as if they are being placed on the sidelines. Your kids must feel that it’s OK to tell you what they think and be made comfortable enough with what’s going on to ask you any questions they may have.

Plan Carefully How and When to Tell the Kids

First impressions make a huge difference with kids and divorce. What parents first tell their children about the separation and divorce is likely to be the kids’ first definite impression of their new life. You should carefully plan how and when to tell the kids, and to coordinate with your spouse if it’s at all possible. Kids being told about their parents’ plan to divorce for the first time by their parents is an event they will remember vividly for the rest of their lives. With kids and divorce, the kids are not a side issue, and you should not try to wing it.

As a dad, you may be miserable yourself from going through the divorce. It may be difficult to focus on both the kids and the divorce. Regardless of your emotions, you should try to provide a consistent, positive message to the kids. Ideally, your spouse will be “on board” with you, providing the same positive message through the divorce process. Even if this is not the case, then you as their dad can be the one to provide that message, and to rise above any acrimony between you and your spouse.

Ideally, both parents will agree to put aside their differences and tell the kids together, according to guidelines provided by the Kids First Center in Portland, Maine. This provides a sense of security for the kids, letting them know that both their parents will continue to cooperate in their care, and both parents will remain in their lives. This may be the hardest part of dealing with kids and divorce, but it is the most important part, and experts advise you to put aside any negative emotions and “be there” to tell the kids.

Kids and Divorce: Be a Well Prepared Dad

A well-prepared dad should be ready to answer questions from your children. Your kids may ask any of the following questions, according to the Kids First Center’s book “Kids First: What Kids Want Grown-Ups to Know about Separation & Divorce.” It is a good idea to rehearse answers to these and similar questions about kids and divorce:

  • Where will I live and who will take care of me?
  • Where will each parent live?
  • When will I see each parent?
  • Will I be at the same school?
  • Do you guys still love each other?

Having answers ready for these and other inevitable questions from your kids may also give you the chance to work out some issues, things you may not have thought about yet yourself.

When telling the kids, keep the message simple. Don’t blame the other parent or go into the legal details of the divorce. It’s hard enough for you to deal with kids and divorce on a practical level, never mind trying to explain the legal divorce process to the kids. Be ready to tell the kids where the pets will live, but avoid discussion of mediation, custody and similar topics. Reassure the kids and let them know they will still be loved by both parents. Only tell the kids what you know for sure, and try to slowly introduce them to the changes coming in their lives.

“Focus on the important details,” says Nici Carbone, executive director of the Kids First Center. “That you love them, and it’s not their fault.”

“Focus on the important details,” says Nici Carbone, executive director of the Kids First Center. “That you love them, and it’s not their fault.”

You should let them know there isn’t anything they can do to change what is happening between their parents. Make sure you let the kids know they are free to express any feelings they have about what is happening, both now and in the future.

“Give them as much information as is appropriate and that they can understand based on their ages.” They should be told what will happen regarding living arrangements, school, and the like.

Leave out the adult-specific details and information about other details not important for kids and divorce. For example, Carbone says, they don’t need to hear about a parent’s frustration with the other parent over money issues, affairs, or how many times the other parent has made them go to court.

Try to use examples of the families the kids know who have been through divorces and for whom things have worked out well.

After telling the kids, you will have a lot of issues to deal with, including getting yourself back on your feet. It’s important you don’t involve the kids in any ensuing drama, tempting as that may be.

Never Let the Kids be the Go-Between

Using your kids as messengers to deliver messages to the other parent is number one on the list of don’ts for dads going through divorces, according to M. Gary Neuman’s Sandcastles Program. Neuman is the author or of “Helping Your Kids the Sandcastles Way,” a popular book on kids and divorce. The book and program are designed for kids, 6 – 17, whose parents are going through a divorce.

When you’re dealing with divorce or separation and are not communicating well with your spouse, using your kids as messengers can let your kids know about things going on between their parents that are not appropriate for them to hear. It also places unnecessary stress on the kids. In addition, messages may not be accurately exchanged. Find an alternative way. Exchanging messages by e-mail and texting are perfectly good ways to communicate that don’t involve your kids.

Don’t Trash the Other Parent to the Kids

Never bad-mouth the other parent in front of your kids. While dealing with kids and divorce raises everyone’s hackles, disparaging the other parent can only raise your kids’ stress and confusion when you say bad things about your ex to them, someone who is not an ex to them, but someone they still love and respect. If you feel the need to vent about your ex to your kids, get a therapist specializing in divorce issues including those involving kids and divorce.

Keep Trying To Put Your Kids First

“It’s hurtful for a parent to speak negatively of their other parent,” says Carbone. “Children want to love their parents freely no matter what has happened. Bringing them into the discussion about what happened and how it is playing out doesn’t help them.” Dads dealing with kids and divorce should remember, even when it gets hard, to keep putting their children first.

Finally, don’t be afraid to tell your kids you’re sorry. It’s tempting to take out some of the frustration you feel on your kids. After, when you are calmer, tell them you’re sorry. You can’t take back things you said to your kids in anger, but saying you’re sorry can go a long way toward making things right between kids and their dads.


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