I grieved at the thought of telling my children that we were getting a divorce. I knew this would rock their little worlds. Forever change their story. I stayed in a destructive marriage for many more years than I should have, primarily because I didn’t want to turn their world totally upside-down. It hurt my heart.
But what they were seeing and the way we were living was destructive to them, too.
I was dying a slow and painful emotional death and was becoming a shell of a person. I was having to deny the abuse that was taking place just to cope and get through the day. I numbed every part of my heart. It was too painful otherwise. They were seeing all this, as well as the angry, disrespectful, and manipulative way that my spouse treated me. They would think this was a normal way for a woman to be treated, and would likely repeat the pattern.
When I decided to divorce my abusive and narcissistic X2B, I went to an adolescent counseling center and got some advice on how to tell the kids we were divorcing. Here were their general suggestions:
- Ideally parents should sit down together and tell the kids. In my case, it was not emotionally safe to sit down with my husband and talk to the kids, so they recommended we talk separately.
- Tell the kids in a place where they can cry. Home is best. Do not do it at a park or restaurant.
- Be short, sweet and to point.
- Ask if they have any questions. Let them know you will have lots of conversations with them about this and you are always here to listen.
- If they ask questions about “who did what” or legal issues, let them know those are “adult discussions”. Encourage them to focus on kid things like homework, sports, and school.
- After you talk with them, suggest 20 minutes of alone time, and then go get ice cream or go to park and get some fresh air.
- Tell them “I love you” a lot.
- Tell their teachers that there is a family conflict going on and homework may suffer for a week.
- Get your kids in counseling.
In planning out what I was going to tell my children, I took the counselors advice, as well as talked to friends who had been through it before, and combined that with a few books I had read. Here is what I said to my children when I let them know that we were divorcing:
Discussion with Kids (preteen ages):
I love you.
I’m sorry things have not been peaceful at home.
My goal is to heal our family, so that we love one another as God intended.
I have prayed and sought wise counsel to determine how we can change, how our family can be healed.
I have not decided this by myself but have asked people who love God and love our family to help me decide the right thing to do.
I am sad that this is going to hurt, but I know we need to make a change, and it is going to mean Dad and I live in separate homes and are not married anymore. Not right away, but in the next couple weeks we will make that change.
Both Daddy and I love you. This will never change. You guys are the very best things in our lives. We are so thankful for you.
This is not your fault. You will be OK. There is nothing you need to do differently. Nothing you did could have caused — nor prevented — what is happening.
I know this is a big change, but a lot of things in your life will stay the same, like your friends and school and sports.
If anyone says things that sound confusing, please feel free to ask me what’s going on. I will always answer your questions and I’m here to listen to your feelings.
My desire is that we can have peace/ healing/ joy in our home.
I am sorry this will be painful for all of us, but my hope is in the Lord, and I know He loves you more than I do, and He wants what is best for you, and He will bless our family.
You can ask me any question any time. In the middle if the night, if you are at school, if you are sad. Always ask and I will always be honest with you.
I love you so much.
That was the hardest conversation I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was gut-wrenching. I will never forget it. I’m so sorry it ever had to take place, but I knew that the alternative was worse. The alternative was killing our family and killing me.
I hope if you have children and have decided to leave your abusive spouse that you will take the time to thoughtfully prepare what to say to your kids. It helps to talk through this with a good friend and have people praying for you and your children when you tell them. This is really difficult. I know that your children mean the world to you, and you want to protect them. I did, too. At some point, for me, protecting them meant no longer tolerating the sinning, abusive behavior from my spouse, but instead separating from it.
Remember, God loves you and he loves your children. He can redeem this. Even this.
Love and blessings,