The Script We Used to Talk to Our Kids About Divorce

One of the biggest questions I get after our divorce is, Help! how do you break the news to the kids? As with all things parenting, I’m sure there are many good ways to handle it, and it depends on each situation and family, but, in case it’s helpful, here’s the script I wrote for our crew…

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A few things to keep in mind:

Kids like to hear the same reassuring things over and over, so it’s okay to repeat things. You’ll see the script is a little repetitive, and that’s on purpose.

We also said everything SO SLOWLY and sometimes would just stay quiet and let the kids absorb things. My sister, a doctor, says that when she shares tough news with patients, they often kind of black out and stop listening for a while because it’s so much to take in. So, she’ll say something and then stop talking for a while. We did that here, too.

Also, if your speech doesn’t go exactly as planned, or you worry you didn’t phrase something perfectly, don’t worry, because you will have a million of these conversations. This is just the first one, and it’s all going to be okay.

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Our script for telling our kids that we were getting divorced:

Share the simple, honest explanation: “Mommy and Daddy care about each other and we love being your parents. But we realized that while we parent really well together, we are not as great of a team as husband and wife. We thought about this for a long time, and we decided it’s best not to stay married and instead get divorced. Mommy will stay living in this house, and Daddy will move to a nice apartment nearby. We will both still spend a lot of time with you, and you will spend time at both houses. We will always, always love you.”

This separation is between us adults: “We both love you SO MUCH. The love that parents have for their kids never ever ends. This is an adult decision that is just between Mommy and Daddy. When parents get divorced, kids sometimes worry that they may have done something to cause it. But they didn’t. A divorce happens between two parents, it’s completely separate from the kids. You didn’t do or say anything to cause this, and nothing you do now will cause it or change it. This is a decision that Daddy and Mommy made about our own relationship, and that is separate from you.”

We are still a family, and we will always take care of you: “Daddy has a nice apartment — we can show you photos! there are bunk beds! — and we made a schedule where you will sometimes sleep here and sometimes sleep there. We will always be your mom and dad, even if we are living in two places. Daddy and Mommy will always work together to care for you in every way, like helping with school stuff, making dinner, playing games, reading to you, and watching movies.”

Many things will stay the same: “Some things will be different, but lots of things will stay the same. You’ll go to your same schools, you’ll have your same friends, you’ll have the same babysitter, you’ll have the same toys, you’ll have the same grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, you’ll have the same routines. You’ll still have the same mom and dad.”

You might feel lots of different feelings: “You might feel sad, mad, worried, or maybe relieved or curious or excited about two apartments. All feelings are OKAY and NORMAL. Your feelings might also change day to day. We are here to listen and talk about your feelings and will be here for you no matter what. It’s okay if you sometimes feel confused or mad at us, too; you can tell us and we will understand. Often hard feelings are strongest at the beginning, and then they get easier.”

You can love us both: “We will always be your parents. You can love us both and never feel like you have to choose between us. You are free to continue loving each of us fully without worrying about not being loyal to the other parent. We want you to have fun with us both! I love hearing about all the fun things you do with Daddy! Daddy loves hearing about all the fun things you do with me!”

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After the conversation:

Kids will often ask for funny things right after the conversation, since they know you’ll be a softie. Toby asked if we could go to a Nets basketball game to “cheer ourselves up.” My friend Tina’s daughter asked if she could dye her hair purple (Tina said yes!).

Sometimes the kids asked hard or nuanced questions, and if I wasn’t sure what to say, I’d tell them, “That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked; I have to think about it, so I’ll get back to you with an answer.” And then I would make sure to answer them, when I was ready.

Consider a Play-Doh station. Little kids don’t always find it easy to bare their souls and share their muddled feelings. Randomly we had a bunch of Play-Doh on our dining table for a few weeks, and the boys would drift over there, start playing, and open up to me. Meditative, safe, their hands were occupied…such a happy accident.

I also told the kids’ teachers a few days ahead of time, in case the kids came to school feeling sad or irritable or without much bandwidth. One teacher said the nicest thing: “We will show him grace.”

Finally, when things felt wobbly, I liked to envision our family a year or two in the future, happy and settled and adjusted. It helped to remind myself that this was the best decision for all of us, because it was.

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Thoughts? What would you add or subtract? I’d love to hear any personal insights or stories, and of course please feel free to ask questions… Sending lots of love to anyone who needs it, for any reason. xoxoxo

P.S. Five things that surprised me about our divorce, and nine women talk about their divorces.

(Illustration by Abbey Lossing for Cup of Jo.)