We chose Friday night to tell the kids. We figured this gave them a two-day buffer before they had to go back to school. Somehow Jeff (ex-husband) and I managed to make it through the pre-talk dinner without bursting into tears or throwing up. We told them we were going to have a family meeting in the living room after dinner. We have had family meetings before so the kids were not immediately alarmed. In fact, I later found out that our seven-year-old daughter thought perhaps we were going to announce that I was pregnant. OMG.
Jeff and I sat in seats on opposite sides of our suburban living room. The kids filled in between us. Jeff and I exchanged looks and I blurted out, “Daddy and I …are splitting up.” I distinctly remember not being able to use the word divorce. It seemed way to ugly and scary. Faces fell immediately and the most heart-wrenching howls of sorrow rose from our children’s throats. No, no, no! Then lots of questions like, Why? and What can we do to change your mind? We’ll be better.
We had both done online research about how to tell kids you are divorcing and we had spent a good portion of our last mediation session discussing the best way to break the news. I was glad for the false sense of preparedness but also knew there was no way to ever really be prepared to unleash such devastating information.
Best Tips for Dropping the Bomb:
1. If at all possible have both parents be present at the time of delivery. Message sent: We are going to work through this as a family.
2. If you don’t know the answer say so. Most likely you won’t have every detail worked out. Do not make up answers just to appease them for the time being.
3. The questions from your children will come in waves. They will process the information and then return to you again and again with new questions.
4. Be prepared with a reason for your decision. This should be a general explanation but know that kids will want it to be something monumental enough to justify changing their lives.
5. Avoid blaming. Present calmly. Use the word We whenever possible. If you present a unified front than the children may in time believe there can be a positive outcome for themselves.
6. Have as many details worked out as possible. Know which parent will be leaving the home. When the children will see each parent. Where they are going to live. If they will be changing schools. Where pets will live. How vacations will work.
7. Let them know they will still have a positive relationship with the parent who moves out. Point out that extended family will not change. They will always be there to support them.
9. Reassure them it was a decision the adults made based on adult actions and feelings. Kids often believe it is their fault a marriage ends.
Something rather unexpected happened fifteen minutes into telling the kids the news. They wanted to call their friends. We kept it within the family that night but they called their friends early the next morning.
The only silver lining of this evening for us was that the kids all slept together in the same room that night in order to comfort each other. Our three are usually of the belief that, three is a crowd, but not that night. They actually leaned on each other for a week or so but then life went back to fighting over favorite chairs and farting on each other’s pillows. The return to bickering was comforting in a way with its familiarity and normalness.
A day or two later we sent a letter to, the village, that helps us raise our children (teachers, family friends, parents of our children’s friends) letting them know what is going on in our home. We asked them to keep an eye on the kids and inform us if they seem to be having an especially difficult time. The response was overwhelming with its warmth, caring and generosity. People are so lovely. We forget until we have a crisis and all the heroes show up with open arms.
The Kids’ Schedule or the Hardest Part
We took forever with this part. We came to the decision to have joint legal (both make decisions regarding medical, educational, religious and legal matters) and physical (both have children living with them regularly) custody quickly, but the actual visitation plan was grueling.
The possibilities are endless.
Do you want the kids to go back and forth like ping-pong balls? The more back and forth the more likely things will be forgotten at the other parent’s house and the more unsettled the kids feel. Seriously consider living close to each other. So much more convenient (especially when delivering forgotten items to the other parent’s house).
How long can you go without seeing your kids? Some parents switch off every week or every month. Can you go that long between visits? Most of the time it’s the nights that count, especially if your kids are school-aged. Days are spent in school most of the year.
Summer is a completely different setup. Now you have day time to consider. Do you need childcare?
Holidays and vacation time must also be figured in. The holiday and vacation schedules will most likely trump the regular schedule.
One other important note about dividing up parenting: It is very nice if the ex-spouses can be each other’s first call when it comes to babysitting needs. It’s free and the kids get more time with each parent.
We split the week up as evenly as possible between the two of us. We didn’t think we could go a full week without seeing the kids. Homework, shoes and lunches have been forgotten at the other parent’s house. Friends call for the kids when they are at the other parent’s home. We expected this and accept it as part of the deal.
We make a concerted effort to ensure our kids get to attend and host as many sleepovers as possible. Maintaining friendships is vital.
I’ve taken you through the reasons we decided to divorce, the mediation and financial process, and the aspects related to parenting. Tune in next week when I’ll share what I experienced the first six months without a spouse: co-parenting, dating, home maintenance, solitude.