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Disclosing Divorce: How Do I Tell the Children?

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‘How do I tell the children?’ is one of the most common questions parents undergoing divorce have. It is also one of the most challenging and heartbreaking conversations you will ever have with your children when you and your spouse are planning a divorce.

It is as devastating to you as to your children to acknowledge that the family they know is about to change. Every thought, belief, family value, hope and dream about family is tossed in a whirlwind of emotions. How does one explain to a child why one parent abruptly left home and had no contact for months? How does a child make sense of his anger for a parent he was once close to?

Daphne (not her real name) was nine years old when her parents divorced. Now 21, she shared that she wished she had the assurance and guidance from her parents during the whirlwind of divorce. Feeling small and alone, she had a million unanswered questions about the divorce and was constantly searching for answers to make sense of the traumatic events.

Young children need the assurance of love and involvement of both parents in divorce disclosure. Instead of withholding information from them, be honest with them but also cushion the news for them. You and your spouse need to agree on what to disclose to them while ensuring that the information is age-appropriate before gently breaking the news together.

Children will have varied reactions to the news, from denial to self-blame, from staying quiet to wailing. If you can address their concerns amicably together, it not only paves a positive start to your co-parenting journey but also greatly alleviates the pain and confusion. Be mindful to also provide them with concrete plans on matters surrounding their needs such as it will help to ease their worries about the future. As far as possible, keep to current routines such as where they stay, go to school etc., to give them a sense of stability.

You may need a different approach with teens and young adults whose cognitive and emotional development may not be mature. Despite your best efforts, they may not reciprocate your good intentions. Internally, they are struggling to cope with the emotional roller coaster they are on, but externally they may act strong and disregard you. Slipping them personal and heartfelt letters may help you reach out to them and provide the distance they want with you as they struggle internally with their grief. You can validate their feelings about how the decision has thrown them onto unfamiliar paths and into an unknown future. Empathise with them on their losses as they mourn over the loss of family, hopes and dreams; apologise to them if you feel the need to, and continually reaffirm your commitment to them with actions.

Children are the innocent parties impacted in a divorce. They need both you and your spouse’s involvement to weather the storm of emotions and changes to come. Learn to put aside your anger and disappointment with your marital relationship to co-operate with your ex-spouse on parenting matters. Having a united front in co-parenting will help them re-experience the sense of love, security and belonging that are critical for their growth.

If you would like to seek emotional support for yourself and your children going through a divorce, reach out to us at email [email protected] or call us at 62355229. We provide counselling and support group programmes for divorcing families. To join an online support group, register at go.fycs.org/transcendingdivorce

Our centre also facilitates Pre-action Mediation (PAM). It helps couples who have decided to embark on divorce and are unable to agree on the reason for divorce and/or ancillary matters. During PAM, a professional mediator will guide discussions to support couples in reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. It could potentially reduce animosity between the couple and arrive at better outcomes- speedier settlement and reduced cost. Contact us for further details.


Written by: June Leo, Senior Social Worker, Fei Yue Community Services