Talking to your adult children about your divorce

Nov 25, 2023
Source: Getty Images.

Talking to your adult children about your divorce can seem like a daunting prospect.

It’s a very different prospect telling an adult child about your decision to divorce compared to telling a minor. You might feel anxious about how they may react to your news and are wondering how you’re going to word what you need to say.

Here are some tips from Perth family lawyer, Ella Hickman, from Hickman Family Lawyers, on how to talk to your adult children about your divorce.

Tell Them Face To Face

Let’s face it, informing your children of your impending divorce is likely to be a somewhat traumatic event for them. Breaking such upsetting news should be done with great care, in person and face to face. If distance is a problem, the next best thing is to use a video call platform, avoiding telling them over a phone call, text or email, which can be impersonal. It’s also much harder to see their reaction to the news, and reactions and words can be misinterpreted when you can’t see the person you’re talking to.

Tell Them Together

Where possible, arrange a time to tell your child or children your news with all of them together and with your spouse present. This may lessen the blow by creating a united front and allowing your children to ask questions to both of you at the same time, rather than trying to get information from each of you separately.

Breaking the news together is very important if they are still dependent on or living with you. Explain what will and won’t change, and how this decision will impact them.

Prepare What You Will Say Beforehand

Just as in making any important presentation, breaking your divorce news to your children will also require careful preparation. Together with your spouse prepare what you will say beforehand, structuring your talk around the overall message you want to get across.

Try to anticipate a range of questions that will surely be asked and have your answers ready. Make notes if you have to and have them with you when you break the news. Being fully prepared will make it easier for you both to remain composed and unemotional, as hard as that may be.

Don’t Blame Them For Your Divorce

The last thing any child wants to hear is that their parents chose to remain in an unhappy marriage for years because of them – even if it’s true. The news of your marriage breakdown will already be a shock to them, without the guilt of being responsible for their parents’ unhappiness. Telling them that you remained married for their sake may have them wondering how much of their childhood was real and bring on feelings of guilt and sadness.

Don’t Encourage Them To Take Sides

Avoid bad-mouthing or laying blame for the breakup on your spouse in front of your children. Doing so, will put them in the middle and encourage them to take sides, which is not what any child should have to do. They want to love and respect both their parents, and by you ranting about their other parent to them will make it more difficult for them to deal with your divorce.

Avoid Oversharing The Details

Although adult children may want to ask more questions on your breakdown than small children will, avoid oversharing unnecessary details. Spare them the gory details if there are any. Try to keep it as simple as possible, explaining that you’ve both been unable to resolve your differences and focus on getting them to accept that a separation would be the best outcome for everyone.

Explain What Will & Won’t Change

It is important that you have both made sufficient plans for your futures before breaking the news to your children. This will enable you to explain how your divorce may affect them. Of course, much depends on whether they’re dependent on you financially or still living with you.

Assuring them of the things that won’t change will help ease their anxiety, and try to minimise the things that will have to change for them. Normal day-to-day events, like special family days, Christmas, holidays, where you both shall live, when you will see them, and so on. What should be made clear, is that your love and support for them all will never change.

Expect A Range of Emotional Reactions

The one advantage of having to break the news to adult children is that they may already have been aware that things weren’t going all that well between you both, and may even been expecting this news one day.

But it may also come as a huge shock to them, so expect a wide range of emotional reactions from them. They may express shock, anger, sadness, disappointment and grief. These are all normal reactions to the news that your parents are getting a divorce.

In many cases, children continue to see their parents as role models for their own relationships, and seeing you both navigating through your difficult times with dignity and respect for others, sets a fine example for them to follow.

Give Them Space To Process The News

It’s often said that time is the best healer, so give your children their own space and time to process the news and their emotions. This will probably not be the only discussion you’ll have with your adult children as they will continue asking questions and expressing their views and emotions over the following weeks or even months. Even if they’re angry with you at first, with a little patience and time, they will eventually come to terms with the situation.

You’ll be doing them a huge favour, by continuing to stress the value of marriage and an unbroken family, even though it didn’t work out for you.

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