Divorce can be an incredibly complex and difficult process to understand, even as an adult. It has so many different aspects and legal minutiae that it really does take a professional divorce attorney to truly get a grasp on it, especially since laws vary so widely from state to state. So, assuming that you aren’t an experienced divorce attorney who has spent years explaining the process to clients, how are you going to explain divorce to your children? As naturally inquisitive as kids are, it’s best to be prepared for the many questions that will come your way during divorce.
Here’s an overview of a few of the most persistent and important questions your kids might ask you about your divorce, with a few possibilities for how you might respond. Overall, though, it’s best to know from the beginning that while they may be asking you specific questions, they are seeking much more than information. What they really want to know is that you still care about them and that you will be there for them in spite of the traumatic changes in the family unit they will endure.
1. Why don’t you and daddy (or mommy) love each other anymore? This can be a very difficult question to answer for a variety of reasons. You might not feel comfortable explaining some of the reasons why your marriage is irrevocably broken. Or you might not even know all the reasons why you and your spouse have reached the point of divorce as the only option going forward.
One way to answer this is to say that no matter how you and your spouse feel about one another, you both will continue to love your son or daughter, and that is the important thing. You could be more open and say that even though you and your spouse tried very hard, sometimes relationships don’t work, but again that does not carry over to your relationship with your child – your child does not need to fear that their relationship with either parent can be similarly severed.
2. Is it my fault? In the confusion of feelings and thoughts produced by divorce, your child or children might think that they are the cause of your marriage falling apart. It’s crucial to respond appropriately to this type of question, or be proactive in telling your child even if they don’t ask, because the psychological baggage that this thought produces, if left unresolved, could be extremely damaging to your child for the rest of their life.
A possible response could be saying, no, they certainly did not cause your divorce. Your divorce is about you and your spouse, and even though it affects your children, they should never think they are responsible. However, you might be thinking that your child did actually increase the stress in the marriage, so you might be confused on how to answer. But you can still be honest with your child because they did not cause the issues that caused the divorce, even if you feel as though having children put additional strain on the relationship. Your children must understand that you love them no matter what and that they did nothing wrong.
3. What can I do so you will stay together? Related to the last question, the first instinct of your children might be to try to fix your relationship, thus removing the uncertainty and pain they are experiencing during your divorce. They may offer to do more chores around the house, do their homework, anything within their control that they know pleases you and your spouse. This is certainly heartbreaking to see, so preparing a response for this might be very difficult.
Overlapping with the response to the second question, when you respond it’s important to remind them that they are not responsible for your marriage breaking, so they are not responsible for fixing it. You can say that you appreciate their wanting to do nice things to make life easier for you during the divorce, but that you love them regardless and that divorce will not change that. You can also say that you and your spouse tried very hard to make their relationship work, but that sometimes even hard work can’t fix some things.
These are all very difficult concepts for a child to understand, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from their questions or fail to provide them honest, though hard, answers. Always bring the discussion around to how much you love them and that you will never abandon them, even though they might feel that way during divorce. You may not be able to answer all their questions to their satisfaction, but you can help them understand that you will be there for them throughout the process.
Adam Bowers is a writer living in Atlanta interested in all things law. He currently writes for Atlanta divorce attorneys.