The process of self-discovery and, ultimately, the decision to divorce sucks – no if, ands, or buts. However, all the pain and anguish personally experienced is nothing compared to the imagined destruction of my children’s lives when sharing the news of my divorce. Regardless of the reason for the divorce, telling my kids about my divorce ranks as the worst part of the whole ordeal for me.
Never before have I experienced such fear, worry, and stark terror for another human being as I did the day we told the kids of our decision.
These little people are my world.
I have been entrusted with not only my children’s physical but emotional care and well-being. Yet based on all I’ve read about the best family environment for kids, I’m about to shatter the lives of the two most precious people in my life!
While this may seem dramatic to some, it was how I felt. I hope to never feel such anxiety again.
In hindsight, how Rainbow and I shared the news with our kids is a much gentler and a more loving approach than how some children learn of their parents’ divorce. Divorce is still painful and will definitely have an impact on any child, yet, I believe how you tell your kids can lessen the trauma. A divorce for children is dramatic only if the delivery and reactions of their parents are dramatic.
When We Told The Kids
Rainbow and I made the decision to divorce on July 3rd. We did not tell the kids about the divorce for ten days.
We knew no matter how controlled and calmly the news was delivered, this would still be a traumatic event for them. The timing should be such to allow them to process without interference and at their own pace.
Both kids had previously scheduled overnight faith-based camps in the few days after our decision. We knew the coming days would help fill the kids up with love. Both at the camp (due to the faith-based nature) and because the sibling at home would get lots of one-on-one time with both parents.
Rainbow and I made serious effort to work together and plan kid-specific events to fill their emotional buckets while the other sibling was at camp.
Additionally, there were a couple of games and celebration events to finish my son’s baseball season during this time. We wanted the focus for those events to be on the kids involved and not us.
Maybe it is presumptuous, but we believed sharing the news right before those types of events would shift the focus from kid fun to adult drama. People love to stare at train wrecks. We knew our story could have the potential to be the focus of conversation during those events instead of the kids.
Waiting roughly two weeks to tell our kids was extremely difficult.
Rainbow and I still had to live as though all was normal.
Go to work.
Sleep in the same bed…
Keeping all routines normal so as to not alarm the kids. After all, the reason for the divorce had not created an uncomfortable home life for them up to now, why suddenly change that?
Further, we wanted our kids to be among the first to know. While it is not as important now, we did not want our kids to look back and realize lots of people knew before they did. We determined it was a way to show respect to our kids long-term. As such, only my brother and sister-in-law and other one couple friend knew about our decision before the kids.
Holding on to the news and acting normal was challenging to say the least – for both Rainbow and me.
In the end, Rainbow took a couple of days off of work. We shared the news with the kids on a Thursday morning and planned no events for the next two days.
The following week, the kids and I went on a five-day vacation with my side of the family.
We were fortunate to time the divorce news in a way that the kids felt tremendous amounts of love and belonging both before and after learning their family life is changing.
Where We Told the Kids
Another key factor in sharing the divorce news was where we would tell them. Most individuals seem to recall exactly where they were when traumatic events occur.
Where were you when JFK was shot? Where were you when you heard the news about the terror attacks of 9/11?
Learning your parents are divorcing (a personally traumatic event) would be no different.
We read telling kids at the kitchen table is not a good idea if the family regularly ate there as we did. It would create a negative memory where only good ones have been before. Same with any location in the family home. Why taint places with only good memories if avoidable?
However, you also want the location to be a place where the kids are comfortable and feel safe. It seems to us placing kids in a foreign environment and sharing traumatic news is likely to heighten the drama not reduce it.
We settled on telling my kids on the floor in the living room. A place of comfort and safety. Trusting sitting on the floor would be just enough different so as to not taint the good memories of the room. After all, we rarely sat on the family room floor.
Deciding Who Shares the Divorce News
One of the biggest concerns was emphasizing our love for our kids. We never want them to feel Mom or Dad love them any less because we are divorced.
As a result of this feeling, we decided to share the news together. We figured if only Mom or only Dad told them, they might incorrectly conclude the parent not sharing the news did (or possibly did not) love them as much as the parent sharing the news.
Sharing together was only possible because both Rainbow and I have enough self-control to override the emotional upheaval we were personally experiencing. We have been on this emotional rollercoaster for months. What’s a few more minutes, days, or months of iron-willed self-control to help two of the most important people in our lives?
That said, I can understand why parents may choose not to share the news together. If mom and dad can’t even stand the sight of each other or can’t remain calm in the other parent’s presence, I would not advise sharing the news of divorce together.
We also made the decision to tell our kids at the same time. Through Rainbow’s research, we have both read other people’s stories about telling the kids separately. While this seems like a good idea, an article from Psychology Today with tips for talking to kids about divorce highlights the potential effects of this decision. So, regardless of the age difference, we shared the news with both kids simultaneously.
Actually Telling My Kids About My Divorce
In many ways, the words used were the hardest part.
How do you convey your unconditional love to your children while still destroying the only life they have ever known? And yes, you are destroying that life. Life will never again look like it is now and how they have always known it to be.
Never have the words I use been so critical as during the sharing of this life-altering news.
These words were so important to me that I wrote them down. I shared my thoughts and ideas with my therapist and the other people who knew. I spoke with child health experts about it too. Repeatedly Rainbow and I discussed the key points and terms to use before telling the kids.
Further, we had to decide if we would tell the kids the reason for the divorce.
From our kids’ perspective, there was nothing wrong with Mom and Dad’s relationship. They never experienced us fighting. Or one parent being absent for long periods of time. Or really any different behavior from other families they were exposed to.
How important is it to share their Dad’s realization, or choice depending on your view of homosexuality, with our kids as the reason for the divorce?
To answer this question, Rainbow (unbeknownst to me) had done a significant amount of research on how to tell your kids you are gay. An article by Seth Taylor tipped the scales for our decision. We never wanted our kids to feel like Seth’s daughter did because she was not told the reason why at the same time she was told about the divorce.
Below is the rough outline of key points and words shared. I’m sure what was actually choked out, calmly but through tears, varied slightly. As to what my children heard….well, I hope someday they will share with me the message they received that day.
1) Sharing an adult decision. Nothing you have said or done – or will do or say – has anything to do with this adult decision.
2) We both love you as we always have and want what is best for you. Your long-term well-being was a primary concern in this decision.
3) There are three types of love: agape, friendship, and romantic. Do you know the difference? (Explain if needed.) Dad and I love each other very much – as friends. God’s intent for marriage is to have both friendship love and romantic love. We don’t have romantic love and never will because…
4) Rainbow shares being gay (homosexual) with the kids in his own words
5) As a result of not having romantic love, Dad and I are going to get an adult divorce.
6) We will always be a family but our family will look different. Not better, not worse, just different. The primary difference is Dad and I won’t live together in the same home anymore.
7) Over the next couple of days, Dad will move to the guest room and eventually find a new home. Your room, friends, schools, activities will all remain the same.
8) You may feel lots of emotions about this adult decision. That’s okay. It’s okay to not have lots of emotions too. We have arranged for you to speak to someone about your feelings.
9) We love you very much and are here for you to discuss any questions you have at any time. Do you have any questions now?
Granted this seems like a lot of information – and it was. However, we believe all these points needed to be mentioned immediately for our kids’ long-term well-being.
Actually sharing these points only took about fifteen minutes.
What Happened Before & After Telling My Kids
Immediately before we shared the news, the kids had been engaged in normal daily activities. They did not appear to even register Dad was home on a Thursday when he should have been at work.
I did a tremendous amount of jittery pacing and hand-wringing in the upstairs hallway. My words snapping more than usual when calling the kids to the family room. Thankfully my heart was caged behind my ribs or it would have galloped away.
Rainbow was calm. Only his stiff movements revealing his tension.
He attempted to hug me in private right before we shared the news.
Reflexively, I threw my hands out in front of me. I couldn’t stand to be touched at the time.
Sitting on the floor immediately after sharing the news, we engaged in a seated family hug. I told the kids that “Mom would probably need a lot of hugs in the days ahead.” I said this hoping to convey I was always open to a hug.
Normally we only did hugs at bedtime. With all the emotions they might feel, I wanted them to know they could give me a hug anytime. Upon reflection, this phrasing may have caused them to have additional insecurity or feel that they needed to take care of Mom instead of Mom taking care of them. If I could go back, I’m not sure I would say this again.
After the family hug, both kids returned to the activity they were previously doing. My son jumping online to play video games with his friends. My daughter watching a movie.
Rainbow sat on the main level couch with our daughter and watched the movie with her. They chatted quite a bit.
I went and sat on the basement couch with my son while he played his game. He shared with me what he and his friends were building in Minecraft. After a while, I reclined on the couch and lightly dozed. The emotional strain and anxiety of the last few days catching up with me.
Ultimately, sharing the news and my children’s reaction to the divorce was much better than the extreme, anxiety-producing future I imagined. How it all played out certainly would not have qualified for any slots on a primetime television show.
Although few divorces require explaining homosexuality to kids.
Each divorce situation is unique and requires an approach to match. Hopefully hearing my story will help someone else with theirs.
Regardless of how kids are told, remember human beings (kids especially) are resilient. Everyone will be okay. My kids’ reaction to divorce was above and beyond anything I could have imagined or desired.
I am going keep loving my kids with my whole heart. And have faith my love will buoy them on the journey and strengthen their hearts despite changes in the family home.