Breaking the News to Kids About DivorceMar 6, 2014
It can be one of the most difficult conversations you’ll have with your child, telling them that Mom and Dad aren’t going to be married anymore. How do you talk to your kids about divorce? Licensed social worker Mary Talboys discuss the methods in which parents can take when breaking the news to kids about divorce, what to do and what not to do. She also talks about why it’s important to break the news together rather than separate.
Host: If can be one of the most difficult conversations you'll have with your child. Telling them that mom and dad aren't going to be married anymore. How do you talk to your kids about divorce? We're going to examine that next on The Scope.
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How do you talk to your kids about divorce? That's what we're going to find out right now. Hopefully some real rubber meets the road advice as well, from Mary Talboys. She's a licensed clinical social worker. It's a difficult conversation to have with kids.
Mary Talboys: It's a very difficult conversation because you're not feeling really positive about the decision yourself, and yet you're trying to explain to your kids where you're at.
Host: Yeah. Maybe you feel like you failed a little bit or maybe you feel like you've let people down, and then yeah. So, what do you do?
Mary Talboys: Well, first of all, I think you start where they're at, and you take into account of what age they are, given how many details you're going to go with. Remembering that you chose this partner to be married to and thus, there are some good things that have been in the relationship, not the least of which is the fact that you have these kids. You're going to sit down and tell them their life is changing a little bit.
Host: So, that's a good paradigm to go into, I think. Thinking that you are, is that something you would actually tell them? I mean, things aren't exactly right between mom and dad but you are the best thing that happened to us? Or...
Mary Talboys: The kids are going to know that something is not right. They pick up on tension. Kids are little sponges and they see a whole lot of things. My guess is that probably your relationship has been a little more tense, and so when you sit down to talk with them, if at all possible, my recommendation is for you to do it together with your partner.
Mary Talboys: So that you present a united front. One of the first things you don't want to do is polarize. You don't want to put the responsibility on the kids of making a decision or even giving them the idea that they have to take sides in this.
Host: You mentioned it depends on the age. Can you kind of give me maybe a bracket of between this age and this age, this is how you should approach it? What are the different age breakdowns, first of all?
Mary Talboys: Well, there's latency aged kids that go up to about age 12, and in that group you probably would want to be much more general and explain some of the things they have questions about. And, even let them lead the conversation.
Host: So, it sounds like by letting them ask the questions then you're not giving them too much information. They can kind of get the information as they feel comfortable collecting the information. Is that the strategy?
Mary Talboys: Absolutely, and I would be very careful about saying anything disparaging about the opposite partner that's sitting there.
Mary Talboys: Because remembering you chose to put this together, it's not working the way you thought it would, and ultimately kids want for you to be happy.
Host: How does a couple of people that are getting divorced, likely because they can't get along or they can't agree on things, sit down and show a unified front when that's probably part of the problem in the first place, is they don't have that?
Mary Talboys: Well, I would do a plan, first of all, and I would rehearse how you're going to put it out. I would choose a time to do that when you can guarantee your emotional level is going to stay flat, because we do have control over emotions, regardless of what people do say. And then, I would have a notion of where it's going and I would keep in my mind, this is an important person. This is their dad. This is their mom. I will not say anything disparaging. I will not go down that road. And if both of you are sitting at the table feeling that way, you're going to be fine.
Host: So, it sounds like you feel less is more. Don't say a lot to the children, kind of get into the conversation and let them guide it? Or...
Mary Talboys: Absolutely. And, the details aren't important.
Mary Talboys: What's important is the kids are going to have a mom and a dad. They may live in different houses, but they're going to have the same support, love, care, that they had before.
Host: What's the first sentence to get into that conversation with the children? That can be the hardest part sometimes, right?
Mary Talboys: I think it is the hardest part sometimes, and depending on if you schedule it out, then they're going to probably guess what the situation is.
Host: Sure, sure.
Mary Talboys: I think I would just say, "Can we sit down and talk about something that's really important to the family?"
Host: So, it sounds like less is more, let the kids direct the conversation, details aren't important, you want to reassure the children that, you know, you're both going to be there for them, it's not their job to help you. Actually, you wouldn't even say that to them, that it's not their job to help you communicate. You do that.
Mary Talboys: You would do that.
Mary Talboys: You would make sure you don't set them in uncomfortable positions.
Mary Talboys: Such as delivering messages. In this day and age, where there's texting and email, you don't need someone to deliver your message. What you need to do is be supportive of the children, and cause as least amount of disruption as possible.
Host: Is there a way that somebody can really mess this process up?
Mary Talboys: Oh, absolutely.
Host: What is that way? Let's learn from the way that we shouldn't do it. Is there, like, one thing that you just really want to avoid or one way that you've seen people commonly mess it up?
Mary Talboys: I think you want to be careful that you don't put any blame on anybody. It's all your dad's fault. It's all your mom's fault. It's your fault, sonny, because you've been such a bad kid. Shame is a very hard thing, and you don't want to put anyone in that light. There are two of you who entered the decision. Both of you are coming to the decision to come apart. And, even if you're not there at the present time, make sure you don't say, "Well, your mom wants this" or, "Your dad wants that," because again, that's putting the blame on someone else. Own your responsibility in the relationship and you'll just be fine.
Host: Do you have any other thoughts? Anything we left out or a final tip?
Mary Talboys: I think you want to model respect, respect for your partner regardless. You want to make sure that you put across the idea that the kids can trust you, that you still love them, none of that has changed. That your values in life haven't changed but that perhaps what you want in life has changed a bit, and thus you're taking this different direction.
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