This guest article from YourTango was written by Dr. Megan Fleming.
First, let me congratulate you for having your priorities in order with your concern about the kids. You are facing one of the greatest parent challenges. Realize this is a big moment. Take a deep breathe. Another. Now do what you always do when you tackle anything important: have an action plan and rehearse it. If you do this well, there are a lot of positive benefits for all.
Kids are smart, and chances are yours won’t be surprised. They have been living with the tension of your relationship, whether it felt hot (anger) or cold (ice). It hasn’t felt good. Kids hear and notice everything you do, all of the time.
All kids today know other kids whose parents have been divorced. Most kids have known kids and their parents pre-split. News travels about what it looked like before their decision to separate was announced.
Giving your children an age appropriate and respectful explanation of your decision to split can even be a relief from the constant feeling of tension not knowing what could happen. The costs of living in an environment that always feels tense and strained is toxic for overall health and well-being.
Research shows the damaging effects the stress hormone Cortisol has when it is constantly being dumped into your nervous system. Regardless of whether you decide to get back together or divorce, if there is fighting going on, the kids suffer. Making the commitment to remove toxic energy from your interactions moving forward is going to have significant benefits for everyone.
Recognize you both have the opportunity to model for your kids by healthy termination. Let them see how two adults can respectfully make a conscious choice to end a relationship when best efforts have not been able to turn it around. It is a great example you can give to your children for handling future conflict in their lives.
How to Tell Your Kids You’re Breaking Up
Telling your kids you’re breaking up isn’t easy to do in the best of circumstances, but these six tips may help.
1. Tell your kids together.
No matter your differences, you both are their parents and that job comes first. You both need to plan and have this conversation. Start the conversation by letting your kids know first and foremost, you will always love them and that will never change.
2. Take the shame, blame, and criticism out of the decision to split.
Take responsibility for your behavior and show up with the best of yourself for this process. This conversation is the first of many to show how you can work respectfully together and are developing a new relationship as co-parents.
For the first time, in perhaps a very long time, give your kids the experience that you are both on the same page. That’s not to say you agree on all parenting issues, but you both agree your kids come first — before your own interests. From that shared vision, negotiate your differences.
3. Let your kids know what the decision to split will look like.
Who will be leaving the home? When will they stay/live with that parent and where? How their schedules and activities will change and stay the same.
4. Rehearse what you’ll say before you say it.
Anything you want to do well, needs practice. I expect a lot of emotion will likely come up in this conversation. By having dry-runs with your partner, you can work through some of those moments and learn to anticipate and rehearse what things you could say if unconstructive, attack, shame or blame comments get throw in.
Anticipating rough spots, if any come up, gives you the opportunity to plan for modeling the ability to own your own emotion, and that it got in the way of what you really want them to get, namely, you are committed from this moment on to communicate more effectively to be heard.
5. Remind them at the end, where you started.
The two most important things you both want them to take away from this conversation is this decision is not because of anything they have done or failed to do. This is not their fault, #1 … and, that you both love them and will love them, forever and always. Tell your kids that no matter who they are spending physical time with, you always hold them in your own heart and mind.
6. Give your children time to adjust.
Make room to notice how they are doing, encourage questions, and keep familiar routines.
Your kids will experience comfort and hope for the future, however it looks in the end, seeing the two of you coming together, connecting, and working together for their well-being.
More great content from YourTango:
- How to Merge Conflicting Parenting Styles
- How to Move On from a Painful Breakup
- Getting Over a Failed Relationship? Here’s How to Move On