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Explaining Divorce To Children

Question:

I just ended a 12 year relationship that was based on anger, abuse, and sadly, lies. Now I feel like I suddenly became free, and feel at peace with my self, I have 4 kids and do not know how to explain to them that I am happy their dad and I are done. How can I explain to them without hurting their little feelings?

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Answer:

Small children need age appropriate translations of adult truths. They are not always ready or able to comprehend what has really occurred, and may misinterpret things if you handle the situation insensitively. They may misinterpret things anyway, just given how they see the world. Children (and some adults) are prone to be selfish; they see the world though their own eyes and assume that they have caused things to occur. Thus, the classic mistake that a small child will make when confronted by an adult divorce is that they have caused the divorce. In your situation, you need to communicate that the divorce happened and won’t get undone, that it is sad that the divorce had to happen, that the children did not cause the divorce to happen, and that both you and the children’s father continue to love them. You don’t need to get into reasons for why the divorce happened. For one thing, any explanation will likely fly over the heads of most small children. For another, you run the risk of turning your children against their father if you describe him in negative terms, and that is not in their interest. When your children are older (pre-teen perhaps) and have some life experience under their small belts, you can begin to introduce the idea of relationship incompatibility. You and your ex-husband loved each other, but ultimately found that you weren’t right for each other. It hurts to be with someone when you’re not compatible with that person. Though the divorce was a sad event, life is better now, because both you and your ex-husband are now free of that incompatibility. Make sure you emphasize that parents and children are always compatible; that you continue to love them.

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p> Though this approach is generally a good one, there are many reasonable ways to handle this sort of situation. I encourage you to talk about your situation with other parents and divorcees you might meet to see how they have handled their own similar situations.

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