When do you tell the kids you’re getting divorced? How do you frame it?

A woman I know has told her husband she wants a divorce. She has filed for a divorce, but they haven’t told the kids.

Her current plan is to tell the kids after the divorce is already final and on the day their Dad is moving out.

I personally think this is a bad plan. I have never had to give kids this type of information, and I hope I to God I never have to. However, I think kids need a little time to get used to the idea of the divorce and of Dad moving out before he actually moves out. I think that would be terribly upsetting to be told and then have Dad move out that day.

She is also wondering what reason to give the kids. Friends have suggested to say that they fell out of love, but she doesn’t think that’s a good enough reason to get divorced. Also she doesn’t want the kids to worry that they will fall out of love with them.

She’s learning toward saying that mommy and daddy are no longer a good team. She thinks that would be understandable to the kids.

Is it better to rip the off the bandage and have Dad move out the day they find out or ease them into it? What if they don’t have everything figured out? Is it worse to give kids some warning but not have all the answers or wait until you have everything figured out and give them no warning? What is your best advice to make this less traumatic for the kid?

49 comments Add your comment

elgrunir

June 7th, 2013
12:39 am

Tell them right away. It will likely have been obviously heading in that direction, and kids might be thinking that something’s their fault.

You make it less traumatic by being forthright and honest to the point of keeping it unemotional–that is, not trying to have the kids on anyone’s side and keeping any bedroom stuff out of it.

Anton Chigurgh

June 7th, 2013
4:47 am

It would be funny to just not tell them, and then shush them whenever they try to ask about it. Then about 20 years later, you and your ex could gather them together and tell them about it, and everyone can enjoy a good laugh over it.

Quira

June 7th, 2013
5:55 am

Funny?
Are you sure that the kids will be laughing about the divorce 20 years from now?
Not likely.

Mother of 2

June 7th, 2013
5:56 am

Sad situation. Perhaps she should tell the kids the truth about why they are getting a divorce – whatever that truth is. I would begin having the discussion immediately. She can ask her pediatrician for the name of a counselor who can help everyone involved deal with the situation. She’s obviously uncomfortable dealing with it.

Shannon

June 7th, 2013
6:35 am

You said she doesn’t think falling out of love is a good enough reason for divorce-why are they getting divorced? Is it because of an affair or something she doesn’t want to tell the kids because it would color their view of the father?

Shannon

June 7th, 2013
6:36 am

Quira, I’m pretty sure Anton was using satire/irony…and what a point he makes!

Mayhem

June 7th, 2013
6:55 am

The parents have an obligation to their kids. They should BOTH sit down with the kids and let them know what is happening to their family. Kids are smart, they know what’s going on.

Fortunately I have no experience with this, but I’ve seen several friends go through it.

But waiting until the dad moves out is a very bad decision and can have major consequences down the road. That’s not fair to the kids. Divorce isn’t fair to anyone. But make the kids understand it isn’t THEM!

Seriously?

June 7th, 2013
7:00 am

As a child of divorce,I think the kids need some time (a short time – a week or so) to get used to the idea. They also need to be reassured it is NOT their fault. They don’t need to be told why Mom and Dad are divorcing if it’s dirty laundry (affairs, etc). I think that “Mom and Dad decided it would be better for everyone” is good enough, depending on the children’s ages. If they are teenagers, more detail is necessary. This is going to suck for the kids, no matter what.

Miss Priss!

June 7th, 2013
7:02 am

Why are they getting a divorce? Did she get fat?

MomsRule

June 7th, 2013
7:05 am

“Her current plan is to tell the kids after the divorce is already final and on the day their Dad is moving out.”

I’m trying to figure out the thought process that makes her think this is the best way to handle the situation. It rings of avoidance to me.

How shocking this could be to the children. Yes, they may have an idea that everything isn’t wonderful between Mom and Dad, then again, if Mom and Dad haven’t been lovey dovey for years, things may appear normal to them…. If Mom and Dad are hiding the fact that they are getting divorced it is plausible they’ve been hiding their issues forever and the kids may be in for a very rude awakening.

Hard questions to answer without knowing the ages of the children involved.

FCM

June 7th, 2013
7:09 am

How THE PARENTS handle this sets the tone for the future realtionship with their children.

Seriously is right, the kid’s need time to process this too. They need to know they can ask questions–and depending on the kid’s age “I am not going to share that with you” may be an acceptable answer.

They need to know it is not their fault. They will still be concerned that it might be, so it needs to be shown often. They need to know their parents still love them. They need to understand what this means to “their world”…a young child may wonder if that means his/her toys move out. An older child may wonder if that means Dad no longer picks him/her up from sports practice. A teen may wonder if that means Mom and Dad are going to be bringing other people to graduation or something.

I have been divorced for nearly 9 years and my kids still have questions. They still wish we would get back together (not happening and not just b/c he got married again). It is not easy on anyone, least of all the child(ren). So sit them down and talk to them and let them scream,cry etc. Let them start moving through it so they can start healing.

Miss Priss!

June 7th, 2013
7:10 am

This just occurred to me … she told you, Theresa, before she’s going to tell her children. You’re more important to her than her children. And now you’ve told us. We’re more important to her than her children, and this woman doesn’t even know us.

This fat woman’s a baboon.

Techmom

June 7th, 2013
7:15 am

I can’t believe anyone would think springing this kind of information on kids is a good idea. It’s not an easy conversation by any means but it needs to occur. And I totally agree that the kids should see a psychologist. Their parents may not want to talk about this but what if they do? Very demeaning to make it seem like their thoughts, emotions and opinions don’t matter.

mom2alex&max

June 7th, 2013
7:17 am

Priss: I’m pretty sure that is not true. She told T because she wanted advice. I am also pretty certain that T wrote this with her friend’s permission. Sometimes it is good to get a different perspective.

I bet the friend is very distraught and telling the children makes everything more “real” and final. It is very sad.

Techmom

June 7th, 2013
7:18 am

These parents are setting the tone for the kind of communication that occurs in their family whether divorced or not (and quite frankly I’m sure it’s one of the main reasons they’re getting divorced). These will be the kids who show up after having dropped out of school, gotten pregnant or eloped and the parents will have had no clue because the kids won’t talk, just like they were taught.

Ronin

June 7th, 2013
7:19 am

Children of divorced parents have a higher use of drug usage, school drop out rate, social anxiety and the list goes on. and on.

How about the truth? Mom and dad were not able to work through their problems and have decided to live apart. We realize that this may be difficult for you to understand,, but it is easier for us to do this than work through what caused this to happen. It may have long lasting consequences for you, but, in today’s society, it’s all about ME.

Sit down with your kids when you have decided to do this and before you actually have the attorney file the papers. Look at their facial expressions when you deliver the news. If you can then file the papers with the attorney, do it.

You are ripping someone’s world apart to make yours better.

While there are extreme cases of neglect and drug related problems that, if the behavior can’t be modified with therapy, ending a relationship can be healthy for both individuals and the family. After having children, relationships are not about “falling in love” or “falling out of love”, it’s about sacrifice and in many cases doing without to create an environment that facilitates responsibility and setting examples on which they will model their behavior.

A reader

June 7th, 2013
7:31 am

My X found an apartment and moved out before telling ME. It was traumatic for me and it was especially traumatic for my child.

Waiting until the day Dad moves out to tell the kids is a bad idea. It is never easy to tell the kids this type of news and waiting until the last second does not make it any easier, it only makes it more traumatic for the kids.

The kids should be told how this will affect their lives, where they will live, when they will spend time with Dad, how they will get to school, if they will still be able to participate in their extracurricular, etc. They should also be told the real reason for the divorce, in age appropriate terms. Kids are smart will will often figure out the truth on their own. You should not betray them by lying to them.

Me

June 7th, 2013
7:32 am

Tell the kids sooner rather than later and let them know with no doubts that it isn’t their fault. The kids will be far more accepting if lies are not being told and time to process the decision is being allowed.

A reader

June 7th, 2013
7:39 am

I have one more comment. I think your friend is living in fantasy land. Like the only thing that will change with divorce is that her husband will not longer live in the house but everything else will be the same. That is not how divorce works. Divorce is often financially shattering for both participants. The process itself is long and exhausting and very often gets nasty. She may not be able to keep the house. She may be sharing 50/50 physical custody with her ex husband. They may not be able to afford extracurriculars for the kids anymore. The kids may have to change schools. She seems to be living in a world where unicorns fart rainbows. That is not reality.

catlady

June 7th, 2013
7:49 am

We told our children as soon as we were ready for their dad to move out. They had months of time to get used to it before it was final. During that month, we continued to do some things together, but they also had experience with Dad as a separate,entity.

They had never seen or heard us fight, so it might have been a surprise to my son, who was 6. My ten year old daughter, however, was aware of the tension and had seen her father blame me for some things that he could have taken care of. In fact, at one point when he was giving me the devil, she kicked me under the table and gave mr the “speak up for yourself” look. It was at that point I knew I had to do something.

Divorce is very tough.

catlady

June 7th, 2013
7:53 am

Theresa, I am puzzled that they are waiting till the divorce is final and dad moves out. At least here in Georgia you have to be living apart for some time before the divorce can even be begun?

justmy2cents

June 7th, 2013
7:57 am

If she has already filed, and it is uncontested, she could have as little as 4 weeks before it is finalized. They need to sit the kids down NOW and tell them what is going on. How terribly rude and selfish of her (and him if he wanted to wait too) to want to wait til the last second just because it will be easier for HER. It is not fair to the kids to drop a bomb like that and say ok, now Daddy is moving out today/tomorrow, but don’t worry he will see you on weekends and alternating holidays.

the dude

June 7th, 2013
7:59 am

This is another in an obvious string of bad choices.from this lady. I agree with the rest on here, waiting is what is easiest for her, probably a constant if she reviewed her choices in life. The easy way out is usually a bad idea.

Mayhem

June 7th, 2013
8:06 am

And to all the Dads out there, FIGHT FOR YOUR KIDS!!! Don’t settle for every other weekend (4 days out of the month).

My brother fought for his kids, ended up with joint custody. He has them one week, she gets them the next week. She moved out of the house, and bought a new one, about 3 miles from him, and stayed in the school district. The kids were able to adjust easily, one was 14, the other 9. The 14 year old was able to tell the Judge where she wanted to live. She told him, she wanted to live with both parents, and do every other week. It has worked out perfectly.

Don’t just settle for seeing YOUR kids 4 days a month. Fight for them.

Beck

June 7th, 2013
8:45 am

After securing a place to live and finalizing plans for me to move out, my ex-husband and I sat my stepson (who lived with us full-time) down to tell him about my moving out and us getting divorced. We felt it should be handled like most other adult decisions, once the adults know what they are doing but before things become really obvious (like me packing boxes) in order to avoid (a) springing it on him, or (b) having to deceive him about what was going on.

When it came time to go, I let my stepson choose which day of the weekend and what time he wanted me to call him for the first time (this was pre-cell phone days) and made sure to call at exactly that day and time and we did that until he became comfortable with the fact that I was always going to call when I said I would. It was the same for our movie dates and hang out time.

Unless it can’t be humanly avoided, DO NOT fall through on time to be spent with the kids. They didn’t ask for ANY of this. After something as traumatic as a divorce, they need to be able to rely on their parents as much as possible in order to see that no matter what marital status their parents have that they are still THEIR PARENTS.

DB

June 7th, 2013
9:11 am

Depends on how old the kids are. If they are very young (preschool or younger), then the simplest explanations are the best — but I don’t think it needs a long build-up, maybe just a day or two. If they are older and can understand what is going on, then it’s best for them to know as soon as possible. Waiting until the last possible second is cowardly — and only convenient for mom and dad, who are cutting back on a few weeks of questions and tears from their kids because they don’t want to or can’t deal with it.

Sad all around. There’s nothing they can do to “lessen” the impact, and they’re dreaming if they think they can. The kids’ world is being ripped apart forever. How can you “lessen” the impact of that?

jarvis

June 7th, 2013
9:53 am

“Dad and I can’t work out our differences, so he’s going to move out. Also since our combined resources are not doubling but our living expenses will be, everything you know is going to change. We will inevitably be broke. So Dad isn’t going to be here in this house, but neither are we for long because we can’t afford it. Hopefully we’ll find something nearby so you don’t have to give up your social structure at the same time we are disrupting your family structure, but that might not be possible. It’s not your fault, but at the same time, we shouldn’t have ever been together in the first place, so in an around about way, we shouldn’t have ever mixed our genetic selves and produced you either. Again not your fault, but you’re a product of bad judgement on our parts.

Sorry to lay all of this one you, but we’re unhappy and that’s more important than anything else.”

HB

June 7th, 2013
10:18 am

Her whole attitude sounds wrong to me. Her plan, what she’s leaning toward — is she trying to decide alone what to tell the kids, or does dad have some say? Saying they’re not a good team anymore is a TERRIBLE idea! She and her husband need to sit down and figure out how to be a good team because divorced or not, they are parents together. That does not end when the papers are signed. The kids absolutely need to continue to see them as a team working together to do what’s best for them.

Anon123

June 7th, 2013
10:26 am

Kids have noticed the fighting and tension, unless the parents are completely unemotional and in denial. (if that’s the case, some serious counseling is in order) Tell them what’s happening ASAP.

Let them know that you–meaning the parents–are going to live separately from now on, but that you will still continue to be their parents together. This means that most ‘outside the house’ things you did together should continue. Family tradition of going to little Johnny’s baseball games on Saturday mornings? BOTH parents should still go. Sit separately if you want, but both parents go and both cheer for the kid, and both happily greet the kid after the game and whatnot. Of my friends with divorced parents, the only ones who were “messed up” were the ones who’s parents refused to be in the same room together.

Let them know what of their routine is changing, and what stays the same. Who will pick them up from school? Who will take them to friend’s houses? What’s their custody situation (please, please, please, do not do the most basic barely any time at Dad’s….it won’t end well). Who signs field trip forms? Where should their favorite stuffed animal go? Especially in summer, who will they stay with? How are BOTH of you going to help them? How will they make new friends to play with at Dad’s house/apartment?

HB

June 7th, 2013
11:34 am

I think she needs to think about trust issues too. Once a spouse has filed and the process is moving forward, you are flat out lying to your kids if you don’t tell them what’s coming. Taking a little time to figure out some logistics so you can tell the kids what to expect and come up with a plan to help them move forward is fine, but carrying on as if all is status quo until the moment the divorce is final is some pretty serious deceit. Even if they’re too young to get it now, at some point in the not-so-distant future, the kids will know that the divorce process doesn’t happen instantly, and their parents were lying to them for weeks or months.

cobbmom

June 7th, 2013
11:49 am

I agree with Ronin and Jarvis, she filed for divorce and from the short description you gave she appears to be self centered and only concerned with herself. My husband and I agreed on the day we married that divorce would never be an option, when our children were born that agreement was written in stone. We also both agreed that our family would always come before any of our personal wants, an affair would be a killing instead of a divorce. If an affair is involved the selfish parent who committed the offense should honestly tell the children. If you must be with the one you love (insert sarcasm) then be adult enough to own it. If you are divorcing because you are “unhappy” then you aren’t adult enough to be a parent and should lose custody of your children. I for one have grown more than weary of the “me first” people of the world. The children are the ones who pay the price while the adults go merrily on their way. My parents have been married for nearly 50 years, not always happily but both feel the family and children come before their personal wants. My husband and I feel the same. BTW his parents have been married for over 40 years.

beth

June 7th, 2013
12:01 pm

Should be done right away and done with both mom and dad present. The child needs to see and hear with their own ears/eyes that both parents agree that it for the best and that is is no way their fault. My sister and and her husband didn’t sit their 3 kids (ages ages 5, 7, and 9) down until very late in the process and it has been disasterous…. especially for the 9 year old who now has extreme anger issues. One party would not agree to the divorce and since Ohio is a no fault state, she could not kick him out and so they all lived under the same roof for almost 2 years with extreme tension and “text” fighting and the kids listening in on all the venting phone calls. And still they never said a word about it to their kids. They are finally divorced and living separately but the effect of those 2 hate filled years is showing up in the kid’s behavior now.

DB

June 7th, 2013
12:55 pm

Wow — a LOT of judgements here on the mom’s reason for divorce. Divorce is there for a reason, and i think we do this anonymous woman a disservice (as well as being pretty mean-spirited ourselves) if we just assume she’s divorcing as a lark, and not in response to a major relationship upheaval. We don’t know if the father is a drunk, abusive, has started abusing the kids, or has been carrying on a long-time affair — WHY does everyone jump all over this woman, assuming that she’s just taking the easy way out? We’re hearing about this through a 3rd party who is focusing on one small part of this entire divorce, and everyone seems to be making a lot of mean assumptions. Why not assume she has a good reason and go from there instead of second-guessing her 3rd hand?

DB

June 7th, 2013
1:02 pm

Side note: My daughter went on a first date last night. Over dinner, they were talking about their families, and her date commented, “Your family sounds like something out of a fairy tale.” He had been in and out of foster care due to incompetent parents who divorced and were unable to care for him until the father “let” him live with him. WTF?! This is the thing that breaks my heart — kids caught in the middle of this often have such a hard time establishing solid relationships of their own because their own perception of what is a healthy relationship is so skewed. It’s disturbing, to think of all the future relationships that are affected by decisions such as this.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

June 7th, 2013
1:06 pm

There are plenty of reasons for the divorce that I didn’t include because I am trying not to identify the family. I think people are being way too harsh on the mom – they have no idea what has propelled her to this point. I’m not questioning the divorce. I’m questioning the point in time to tell the kids.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

June 7th, 2013
1:08 pm

DB — what do you think of that person as a potential match for your daughter based on his past experiences??? (not asking as a judgement just wondering how much past influences potential as a spouse/partner)

Denise

June 7th, 2013
1:17 pm

I definitely believe she and her husband should tell as soon as possible. There is nothing worse than having a divorce or separation sprung on a child. I was in the 4th grade when my mother packed us up while my father was at work and moved us out of state. She had secured a job and housing prior to our move so this was clearly in the work for a while. I am not sure if my father knew anything about it before he got home to an empty house.

I will never say that a person who decides on divorce is “just selfish”. I’ve never been married but in my liftetime my mother has been married 4 times and divorced 3 times. Twice married and divorced from my father. Unlike most kids, I did not want my parents to remarry. AT ALL. She actually told me they were remarrying in public because she was afraid of how I’d react. Trick on her, I cried in public. Some people marry the wrong partner or stay married when they shouldn’t. My mother was miserable and I saw that so why would I think she was selfish to want to divorce, to leave a relationship that made her miserable. Hell, there is nothing worse than living with miserable parents. Everyone in the house is miserable. I wish my mother would have left before she did. She said she only stayed because I was home and didn’t want to leave me with my father and brother alone. Ha! My father did not behave with ME the way he behaved with her. I would not have had the same issues she did. And when she did leave after I graduated from high school, she left my brother with our father. She has felt guilt over that for 20+ years even though it was the best thing for EVERYONE involved. My parents didn’t tell me they were divorcing and wouldn’t let my brother call to talk to me about it. I was LIVID…not that they were divorcing but because they kept it from me and I was in college. And because they isolated my brother from the one person who could understand and help him through the BS. THAT was selfish.

the dude

June 7th, 2013
1:19 pm

Well TWG you are change the situation by your last post- if the reasons are so obvious revelation would be enough to id the family, hate to tell you but the kids already figured this out long ago and are just waiting for it.

Just for the records DB- I never said the divorce was the easy way – I referred to not having the guts to tell your children and using Dad moving out as a the way to tell them as they easy way out- BIG difference.

VaLady

June 7th, 2013
1:33 pm

Before you tell the kids, MAKE SURE that you are getting the divorce — no sitting on the fence and waffling about it. My Dad abandoned the family and my Mom told us that she was going to get a divorce. I was 7 at the time and had no concept of what divorce was — this was the 1950’s Father-Knows-Best time. Surprise, surprise — Dad came back from his “trip” and Mom dropped all legal action — without telling us. I let the cat out of the bag when I asked Dad when Mom was going to get the divorce. Long story short, Dad took another “trip” and Mom finally followed through with the action. However, she did not tell me the whys and wherefores until I was must older. She was content to let my older brothers tell me that it was my fault — I had caused the divorce.

real life

June 7th, 2013
1:42 pm

This woman seems extraordinarily selfish. She brings it up in a blog read by quite a few people yet has not told her children yet. And I note that you mention you did not include her reasons for the divorce and then say people are being too hard on her. If she wanted good professional advice she would see a therapist/counselor etc. about how/when to tell the children. And your next post says that the woman has been advised she can get a very fast divorce if nothing is contested. All is weird but the woman still comes across as selfish. If she needs direction about telling her children she needs it from someone qualified to give her that advice. And being divorced or a parent does not make one qualified to give her that advice.

Techmom

June 7th, 2013
2:01 pm

It doesn’t matter to me why the divorce is occurring, the kids should be told ahead of time. If they are really young and won’t comprehend, I get not doing it months ahead but if, as your other blog says, the divorce will be finalized in a month or so, the kids should be told today. Let them grieve over the weekend before having to go back to school. Start talking about how things are going to be different and allow them time to get used to the idea. Surprises are meant for good things – not bad.

Becky

June 7th, 2013
2:29 pm

I think that she should tell the kids, that is a lot for them to handle..Divorce is never easy, even when you want it..Good luck with her on whatever she decides to do.

catlady

June 7th, 2013
2:57 pm

Thankfully, DB does not have to consider the young man’s background yet. It was a first date. Anyone marry their first date? Now ,if they are still dating exclusively after awhile, THEN she should worry about his background. Or not.p

HB

June 7th, 2013
4:42 pm

Doesn’t everyone marry someone they had a first date with? ;p

DB

June 7th, 2013
6:50 pm

Oh, she’s had dozens of “first dates” with guys, this is someone she met recently. :-) I stopped looking at boys as possible mates a LONG time ago — marriage is the furthest thing from her mind right now! She’ll let me know if it’s someone I need to get to know better :-)

Ronin

June 8th, 2013
10:01 am

Real life at 1:42, you’re correct. This is not really a topic that should be thrown up on a blog. Each situation is different and being a parent, having gone through a divorce or being a journalist doesn’t make one qualified to dispense relevant advice, only offer an opinion.

As far a not “identifying the family”, this is a metro area of approximately five million people, it’s not Mayberry. I don’t believe that there is any chance that listing general details will identify the person. ,as there are probably thousands of families going through this same process.

As this is “Momania”. An interesting topic would be: “Should all women with children with young children (under age 10) stay at home to focus on the needs of the family” Families were stronger and with fewer divorces up until the early 1970’s, when more women entered the workplace to help pay for additional consumption of additional consumer products.

DB

June 8th, 2013
9:05 pm

@Ronin: funny you say “stay at home with 10 and under”. Before I had children, I was surprised by a co-worker who decided to stay at home once her kids hit middle school. She worked while they were in elementary school. When I commented that she seemed to be doing it backwards, that everyone seemed to go BACK to work when their kids got older, she just smiled and said, “But it’s when they hit middle school that they can start to get into REAL trouble when they are unsupervised!” I never forgot her saying that :-)

Ronin

June 9th, 2013
8:23 am

@ DB 9:05, I agree with that too. Behavior is often shaped at an early age, but it still requires supervision, even more so, when children become teens. The truth is, parenting can be a life long job. Young adults may still consult their parents as they grow, but gain independence as they start families of their own, having learned from the parents life experiences. That, in my opinion, is how you “teach” your child to make the right choices and hopefully the right life partner, avoiding the situation in this blog.

That said, relationships require a lot of work and especially the skill of listening as well as putting the needs of others before your own.