How to Talk to Kids About Divorce

I hope you never have to have this conversation but telling your kids you’re getting a divorce is one of the hardest things you will ever do. The breakdown of a marriage is stressful for everyone involved. Splitting up a household involves many decisions both large and small that have to be decided quickly. These decisions have a huge impact on children’s lives so need to be made with care. These decisions also need to be communicated to children with care.

Last week, I spent two hours working with divorcing parents to create a script to explain to their children that Mommy and Daddy were getting a divorce and how that would impact the children’s lives.

Divorce is a time of crisis and in a time of crisis it is best to keep the explanation simple. Together we created a list of what the parents needed to say to the children and the language they would (and wouldn’t use) to explain what was happening. This example was created for elementary school age children. For older, or younger children, the script would be adapted to the specific developmental age.

Their written dialogue included the following elements:

You may have noticed Mommy and Daddy have been sleeping separately. We want to let you know that has been working better for us.

We want to let you know we have been working on our marriage and we have decided it would be better to live separately and for you guys to live here with Mommy. You will see Daddy at our place and at his place.

A lot of things will be the same and some things will be different.

This is not your fault. We love you. We will always be a family. We will always be your Mommy and Daddy and we will always love you. We decided it would be better to live separately and we will be good friends and better parents that way.

You will live here with Mommy and you will see Daddy a lot, sometimes here and sometimes at his place. Sometimes all four of us and sometimes just with Mommy or just with Daddy. And also each of you will be able to have alone time with Mommy and alone time with Daddy.

There are different kinds of love. Mommy and Daddy still care a lot about each other and have love for each other but not married love.

Mommy and Daddy love each other differently than we used to but mommies and daddies always love their children the same way, forever. Nothing can change that.

We believe this is going to be better for everyone, including you, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. Do you have any questions?

You might be surprised that it took two hours to make this list of things to say but it involved working through the logistics of what the children’s day-to-day life would look like after the separation. Since most children blame themselves for the divorce in some way, the parents worked out the best way to explain that this was not their fault and that both of their parents still loved them.

The parents also had to agree on how much detail to share with their children and what to AVOID saying to the children. For instance, avoid overburdening the children with too much information; provide just enough to satisfy their curiosity and their need. Do not provide adult details. Do not bad-mouth the other parent. Children will do better if they are not expected to judge the situation or judge either parent. Keep negative thoughts about your ex to yourself.

The issues parents need to sort through are complex and potentially volatile. A divorce mediator not only helps you hash out the terms of your divorce, but can also help you come to agreement on practical issues like explaining the divorce to your kids. When parents use mediation to sort out issues, they reduce the risk of fracturing their relationship to the point where they cannot communicate at all and increase the chance of being able to co-parent peacefully.

Children benefit when they see their parents working together, even in a difficult situation. Stay calm, maintain routines, be honest. The message here is, “Daddy and Mommy have discussed everything and this is what we have decided to do…”. This shows children that even though things are changing, Mommy and Daddy are in control of what’s happening and will take care of them. This is very different from each parent hiring an attorney and having the attorneys and/or the courts hash out what the children’s post-divorce will look like.

If you or someone you know is contemplating divorce and need help figuring out what to tell the kids, please call me at 845-876-6100 to make an appointment to learn more about how divorce mediation can help you.

~ Eileen M. Rowley

Mediation Has a Role To Play With Student Bullying

Peer mediation has had great success in adressing bullying. The trend of students implementing the more frequent use of “screen time” and relating to one another by text and other manners lacking face-to-face communication, the human element slips away. Students are less aware of the repercussions of their unkind words. That’s why school districts that implement student-to-student mediation programs offer a powerful tool to place responsibility upon students for their actions, and to get face-to-face feedback on the power of their unkindness. Student mediation is an excellent process, for students directly involved in the interaction, to discuss a future-focussed plan to avoid future unkindness and bullying. Student mediation places the responsibility directly on the shoulders of those involved.

~ Eileen M. Rowley

Divorce, Parenting & the Holidays

by Eileen M. Rowley

The end-of-year holidays are approaching. The holidays often emote strong feelings from individuals and parents on how they navigate through the difficult waters of family relationships. The holidays can bring up memories from childhood about not getting enough. Parents may want to protect their children and create for them something glorious. For blended families and those families that are in the early stages of separation, these times can be especially difficult.

The following ideas are offered.

Create New Traditions

Instead of focusing on what isn’t possible, begin by identifying the positive aspects of a situation, and build upon those aspects. Perhaps the new tradition includes a formal menorah lighting, a trip to another city, or an outing to a tree farm to cut a tree. It can also be an opportunity to refocus or reconnect with family relationships that have become frayed.

Can’t get everything you want in terms of holiday time? Think about negotiating for alternating years and staging that wondrous holiday next time.

Be Flexible

The easier you can make it for the other parent, the more you benefit. If you can’t get exactly what you want, get creative and look at other possibilities and alternatives and identify the benefits of those choices.

See the Situation From Your Child’s Perspective

Remember that the process that you are going through is very different from the process that your child is going through. Figure out what is most important from your child’s perspective and support those choices. What can happen between households to make your child feel more comfortable?

Children Benefit from Less Conflict

Sure, it is difficult to take the high road, and speak well of the other parent. It can be hard to avoid those explosive situations that expose children to harsh language, loud voices and anger. If you anticipate a difficult conversation, arrange a time with the other parent when the children are not around. Plan ahead with one another to develop a plan for what you will each do if the conversation gets out of hand. Some parents agree to shut things down and reconnect within 24 hours when they feel more resilient.

Take Care of Yourself

There is a reason the flight attendant instructs you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. Be good to yourself by identifying what you need and how you can get your needs addressed. You can most help your child with their needs when you are at your best .

Let It Go

People only have power over you if you acknowledge and feed into the conflict. Think about how freeing it will feel to ignore getting drawn down into that negative energy. Ask yourself, “How much does this really matter to me and how much better would I feel if I just move on?”