"How much do we tell our kids about the divorce?" is a common questionfamily lawyers in Pasadena and therapists alike hear all the time. On one hand, parents want to encourage an open and honest dialogue with kids in hopes of reducing feelings of confusion surrounding the divorce. On the other hand, parents who share all the intimate details of the break-up run the risk of landing their child in the middle of emotional terrain they unlikely are able to process. So how much is too much when we talk to kids about divorce?
Writer Stephanie Thompson caused a firestorm of criticism last month when she openly shared intimate details of pondering a divorce from her husband with her young sons and then published the whole affair in a much-debated essay. Thompson contends she was simply being honest with her kids about the reality of her marriage, while readers contended she was guilty of oversharing a problem that should have kept private.
Dr. Jenn Berman, a Los Angeles-based child and family therapist, agrees with the readers.
"The No. 1 priority (of parents should be) to protect a child from the specifics," says Berman. She suggests that parents take a cue from Hollywood publicists and stick to a well-polished press release when talking to their kids about divorce. Details of infidelity, financial problems or other sticky emotional topics should be avoided when telling children about divorce. Instead of the particulars, Berman recommends repeating phrases to the child like "We still love each other and will always work together as your parents."
HelpGuide.org, a website started by therapists devoted to helping readers with emotional problems, recommends being honest with children in a concise way.
"Your kids are entitled to know why you are getting a divorce, but long-winded reasons may only confuse them," the site's authors say. "Pick something simple and honest, like 'We can't get along anymore.'"
Berman agrees and notes too many details could cause your kids problems at school, with friends and at home.
The rule of thumb for all divorcing parents should be talking to children with love. Helpguide.org stresses that saying "I love you" is more important than oversharing every facet of your marriage.
"However simple it may sound, letting your children know that your love for them hasn't changed is a powerful message," according to the site. "Tell them you'll still be caring for them in every way, from fixing their breakfast to helping with homework."