One of the Worst Parts About Getting a Divorce: Telling Children

Telling people about the divorce was excruciating.

Even after it was not ‘new’ news to me, it was still sad to tell people who were hearing it for the first time.  A year later, some people still hadn’t heard the news.  Perhaps they were old friends returning to Brooklyn for a visit.  And then I’d have to tell them.  It was sad every time.

But nothing compared to telling children about the divorce.

Nothing broke my heart more throughout the entire thing.

We had some nieces and nephews.  We also had close relationships with many of the youth in Brooklyn – mainly through church.  And we knew my boss’s sweet children very well, too.  I hated telling them all.

Soon after the divorce, I went to St. Barth’s with my boss and his family (and several other families).  My ex-husband normally would accompany me on those annual trips and he knew all the children very well.  But this time, it was just me.  One of the little girls said to me, “Mara, I know I’m not supposed to ask you something….but is it ok if I still ask you?  Is it true that you broke up?  I heard that you broke up.  It just can’t be true and I don’t believe it, so I had to ask you.”  She was the saddest, sweetest, most compassionate little 5-year old ever as she asked me this question. 

I told her that it was true.  But that I was doing really well and that I was still really happy and that I was going to carry on and still have a good and happy life.  I told her that my husband just wanted to live a different life now and that he would be ok, too.  I had a tear in my eye to see her so sad.   

The youth in Brooklyn that we knew were teenagers.  They looked up to us a lot – and I hated having them see a divorce so first hand when kids need as many good examples of marriage as they can get.  But I decided that I would do everything I could to still show them that marriage and living a good life were as important as ever to me.  They heard me often talking about how much I valued marriage and how important it was to be a good spouse.  And they were very much on my mind as I moved forward and decided how I was going to live my life.  I wanted to make it up to them in any way that I could. 

Have you ever had to explain a divorce to a child?  How did you do it?  Do you have any tips for others?  xo

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  1. Sara Estis November 28, 2012 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    As a child of divorce, I can assure you that this is not easy for a child to hear. My parents sat my brother and I down when I was 10 (and he was 6), and told us together. My dad cried, and I cried, and I think that it was a crucial moment in the process. I am so fortunate to have 2 parents who love me deeply, and who have stayed friends over the years because of my brother and I – even going as far as to pile the entire family (new stepmother and all) into the car when I started college. I know it isn't always possible due to different circumstances, but I think that, without question, if you can sit down and tell your child, or children, together – that is the best way to do it.

    Show them that you are a team, this is not one against the other (even if it might be a one-sided decision), and explain to them that sometimes, people fall out of love and that sometimes life changes people to a point where one or both parties feel the need to move on apart from the other, but that this does not change anything about how you feel as parents about your children. It may seem cliche, but it is important to remind children that no matter, your love for them will never change. Doing this, showing your children strength and positivity and stability will go a long way in helping them accept the divorce, and be able to heal from the wounds it will create.

  2. Ruby Annette November 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    My son was 2 when my husband and I broke up. Now he's 4 and he tries really hard to remember what it was like to have a mom and dad in the same house. It breaks my heart when he asks me to tell him stories about the days when he was a baby with a mommy and a daddy. Very early on, I decided to set biases aside and so I share those stories with him, I tell him his mom and dad love him very much and I am prepping myself for the day he really understands what divorce means. I plan on being honest (according to his level of understanding). Good post! Thanks for the insights!

  3. Laurenkri November 28, 2012 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    I admire parents who are able to overcome their differences in a divorce and interact with their ex spouse in sincerely patient and open-minded ways. For the first year after my parents divorced my mom allowed my dad to come and babysit my brother and I when she was out or working late. I think that helped a lot, but it was obviously not something that could continue happening as they progressed in their single states.

    The older we got the more it seemed that they let past hurts color their interactions with one another and the ways they talked about one another. I can appreciate better now how hard it must be being forced to remain in contact with someone who hurt you so deeply, but I all I knew as a child was that the people who loved me seemed to hate each other and that was confusing and very painful.

    They would both say they had forgiven each other, but as a child/teenager you are taught that forgiveness is a very thorough process, it's not until adulthood that you really learn that all of the elements that accompany the kind of forgiveness they require of you as a child (sincere apologies, forget the past, try to treat who wronged you as a friend …) can take years to accomplish.

    All that said, my parents (my mom especially) did an amazing job of putting in the work to make my brother and I feel loved, and that alone does a lot. But coming from the other end my advice would be to remember that 'telling' your kids is not a one time event. You will retell them their entire childhood in the ways you interact with your ex, the people you date, the way you approach everything that is unique to a family who has experienced divorce. And for as powerful as loving them is, being able to find a way to convey a sense of 'love' in forgiveness toward your ex in how you act and interact with others, I would imagine adds even more to that power.

  4. Brooke Reynolds November 28, 2012 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    The saddest story I heard (and I know it's true because I know the people involved) was a mom and dad telling their young boys about their upcoming divorce. Once they had all the children gathered together, the mom announced "Kids, we're getting a divorce." And the youngest son jumped up and screamed, "WE'RE GETTING A HORSE!!!!".

    • Anonymous September 18, 2013 at 3:52 pm - Reply

      Oh my gosh that was funny.

  5. Jenny D. November 28, 2012 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    I agree, telling anybody was hard, but telling children and teenagers was the worst. My ex worked with the youth and I had siblings who were teenagers, I just remember wanting to protect them all.

    My children were 5 & 3 when my divorce happened. I don't remember a lot of what I said when we initially told them, but I kept it short and I'm not sure how much they really understood. In the coming weeks, as the real changes were taking place, I think that's when it sunk in. Just as Laurenkri stated above, the "telling" isn't done for them. They are old enough to ask questions now and they want to know the "whole" story, my daughter is especially interested. I am still not sure how I am going to handle that.

  6. Tamra November 28, 2012 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    I often LOVE it when kids just don't understand adult things. My husband and I have a stable marriage, so when my daughter's Sunday School teacher got a divorce and moved to another area, my children were very concerned. "What do you mean they don't want to be together any more? Do YOU GUYS still want to be together?" It broke my heart to tell my children about it, and it wasn't even my marriage!

    The sweetest thing, though, was my son. He had one very serious concern, "Does he still believe in Jesus Christ?" I told him that I was pretty sure he did. "Good," he said matter-of-factly. I hope he holds on to that. If other things are falling apart, he'll know where to turn.

  7. elizabethl789 November 28, 2012 at 9:34 pm - Reply


  8. Nicole Mills November 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post!
    I'm currently getting ready to go through a divorce. I have two little girls, a 3 year old and a 3 month old. I'll be moving out of the house my husband and I just built only 2 months ago. I can't afford the mortgage on my own even with child support. But that's not the part I'm dreading most, I'm absolutely terrified of telling my 3 year old about mommy and daddy. I keep reading article after article hoping to prepare myself for our discussion, but honestly I feel absolutely lost.
    I know the details of our divorce or rather why we're getting a divorce aren't relevant right now, but even thinking about the day when she's old enough to know that her daddy is the reason for this, breaks my heart. I was never a daddy's girl growing up, so seeing her and my husband with this amazing relationship literally makes my heart melt. I just don't want her to ever resent her daddy.
    Thankfully, despite how badly I've been hurt, I still think of my husband as my best friend. I can't imagine my life without him. I just truly hope our relationship will continue to grow as friends during this difficult journey.

  9. Kara K December 5, 2012 at 6:27 am - Reply

    Our daughter was 7 and our sons had turned 3 just 3 days prior to my husband leaving our family out of the blue. To say that it's been tough is an understatement. I feel terrible with how she found out that we were actually divoricing…she just knew…she had witnessed my complete and utter devastation, but couldn't wrap her sweet, innocent mind around it. I told her that God gives us free will to make our own decisions and that sometimes we don't make very good ones. I told her that even though I didn't like or agree with daddy's decision, I had to respect it (I fought tooth and nail for my marriage, but it was a completely one sided fight) My daughter was so much wiser than her years and it was so hard to explain to her what was happening when I didn't even know myself. She couldn't understand how someone that loved us so much, could leave us.(She to this day says "When dad divorced 'us'") 🙁 (I always correct her, by saying that he didn't divorce her or her brothers…) I was always honest with her…about my feelings, about my understandings, about how Jesus would always love us and never leave. She asked the HARDEST questions…"Mom, did God know this was going to happen when you and daddy got married?" UGH!
    What she does know, as well as her brothers, is that I loved their father dearly and have never spoken a disrespectful word of him in their presence in the past 3 years. I always encourage them to have fun with him and to love him and respect him because he is their father. I have been fortunate (or have had the great misfortune) that their father's actions and poor decisions have spoken louder than any of my words ever could have. I am beyond thankful that they know of our Heavenly Father's love, as our faith has carried us on this unintended journey.

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