Earlier, we talked about how to tell your child you are getting a divorce. Now, let's talk about when.
Before I provide this type of guidance, I want to reiterate the importance of having both parents present during this pivotal conversation.
When both parents sit down to tell their children about the divorce, it demonstrates to children that the decision to divorce is a joint one, even if that is not the case. Although I understand it can be very difficult, it is crucial that parents maintain a unified position on getting divorced as opposed to blaming one parent for the life-altering decision. However, before even considering when to tell children about the divorce, parents must be absolutely certain the decision is final. Since most kids hope their divorced parents will reconcile, it is detrimental to children if their parents engage in an on-again, off-again relationship because this contributes to children maintaining false hopes of a future reconciliation.
It is also imperative that both parents be present when telling children about the divorce so they can reinforce firsthand that although they will no longer be married, they will always be parents and love their children. Parents also need to emphasize together that their decision to divorce is not their children’s fault in any way because children often blame themselves when their parents divorce. Finally, both parents need to tell their children that they are available to talk anytime.
If it is impossible for both parents to talk to the children at the same time -- maybe one spouse has left unexpectedly, or there are safety issues involved -- explain to your children that the decision is a joint one, but the other parent was unable to take part in the conversation.
When to tell
Choose a time when the conversation will not be rushed and both parents will be around to answer any additional questions the children may have. I suggest telling children on a day they do not have school, so they can process their feelings in the comfort of their own home, and on a day that neither parent has to work or go out of town soon thereafter.
The timing of the conversation also depends on the ages of the children. For children 5 years old and younger, it is best to tell them one to two days before one parent moves out of the home. When parents tell young children earlier than that, it confuses them because they continue to see both parents living together.
For elementary and middle school children, it is best to tell them a few days to a week before one parent moves out, in order to give them time to process what’s happening and ask additional questions while both parents are still living at home.