Most of the advice offered by experts suggests that both parents sit down with the children, and say something like, “Sometimes moms and dads have trouble getting along and it’s not good for them to live together anymore. That’s what has happened to us and so ___ (dad) or (mom) or (we) are ….” Approaching the children together is a good idea because

  • it demonstrates that, although you are divorcing each other, you are still both willing and able to continue to be parents
  • it demonstrates that you are both in agreement about this decision to divorce (no one is going behind the other person’s  back).
  • It allows you both to gauge the children’s reactions so you can work in the same direction to clear-up misunderstandings, answer concerns, and do what is necessary for their well-being.

We support this very difficult approach as the one that is in the best interests of children’s mental health. However, like every rule, there may be exceptions. What are they and how can they be handled to provide as much support as possible for the children? The three primary exceptions are:

  • if one partner has abandoned the family
  • if one partner is abusive
  • if there is still such a high level of animosity that the two parents are unable to sit together for the required amount of time to talk with the children without resorting to accusation and blame.

If one parent “takes off”, there are other issues to deal with and the immediate question needs to be “How can I be safe?” with all the questions that surround that issue. A parent disappearing compounds the divorce issue. In talking with your children, be prepared to tell them who else is around to provide stability? Are there other relatives who can be counted on? Will you also leave? These issues will need to be talked about, probably over and over, and then over again.

Abuse is a most serious reason for divorce and divorce often comes as a relief for children. Here the issue is how the children will be protected in order to be physically safe. We will talk more extensively in future entries about how to help children who have witnessed or experienced abuse. For now, just know that safety is the primary issue.

Continuing animosity is, of these three issues, the most common and the one most able to change. Finger pointing, name calling, and airing grievances may be the feelings of the adults that have led them to divorce, but they are not appropriate pieces of information for children. If the parents are at a stage where they can’t get beyond their rage, they need to involve an outsider-therapist, coach, lawyer, or more objective relative who can explain the situation, including the words, “Sometimes even grownups argue and say mean things when they’re angry and upset. This is happening now, but it has nothing to do with how much they love you. In time, they’ll get over it, and you just have to be patient.

Divorce is difficult on everyone in the family. Along with doing what is best for your children, it is also important to remember that you, as parents, are also hurting, and the kinder you are to yourself, the sooner you all will heal.


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  1. This is good advice. The more parents are one the same page in advance, the better for the children. At childcentereddivorce dot com there’s free advice, ezine, blog and coaching services on how to handle all facets of divorce and parenting in the best interest of your children.

    Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
    The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce

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