I have had a lot of single parents and step-family parents ask me whether they should tell their children the circumstances of their divorce. I think every situation is different in this case, and the question for should be given the greatest consideration and prayer before making a decision. As I have personally mentored and witnessed good and bad results from many couples wishing to address this, I want to offer my personal yet experienced opinion on this issue.
Check Your Motives
The first thing you need to address is your motive for telling your children. I have heard a lot of seemingly good excuses for this over the years, but they are rarely good enough for actually spilling the details to your kids. Typically, the ulterior motive, especially if their former spouse was unfaithful or abusive, is to make the other person look bad – or themselves look good – in the eyes of the kids; in other words, to manipulate them.
Another common reason given is that they feel that their children should know everything; they do not want to hide issues from them, but desire to be open and honest with their kids. After all, their mom and dad are now divorced and they deserve to know why, right?
Not so fast! While kids are certainly curious over the reasons or causes of the divorce, they do not necessarily want to know all of the gory details (assuming this was a messy divorce), nor do they want to hear that one of their parents was the “bad guy” (or girl). Kids are more interested in easing their own minds that they were not the issue or even a part of the issue.
Be Aware Of Potential Challenges
You need to make sure you weigh out the potential issues that may be caused as a result of telling your kids about the reasons for your divorce. If your actions or behavior were the cause of the divorce, what collateral damage could be caused? We certainly don’t want to live a lie in front of our children, but we also do not want to cause them further harm. Start by asking yourself, “Will the knowledge of my actions or behavior cause adverse damage to my kids?”
There is a couple that my wife and had met with in the past whose relationship was the cause of each of their divorces, but their kids didn’t know this. You may be thinking, “But shouldn’t they confess their actions”? They have, with God and with some very trusted friends, but they had to weigh the potential damage that might have been caused for their kids at that time and decided what was best in that moment. God may, in fact, lead them to do so at some future point in time, but for now, they feel confident that they have handled this appropriately for all involved.
If it was your former spouse whose actions or behavior caused the divorce, then you need to be extra-cautious about telling your kids the details. In fact, my personal position is that what your spouse did is not even yours to tell. Most of the people my wife and I have dealt with on this issue are the ones who were “sinned” against and feel the need to be “open and honest” with their kids. This goes back to my first point of motive. There is no appropriate motive for telling your kids about what your former spouse did to cause your divorce! There, I’ve said it. And I stand behind it whole-heartedly.
Even if you want to tell the kids in order to clarify that you’re the victim in the situation, remember that there may be unexpected repercussions. What if your former spouse denies what you’ve said? Then, the kids are left wondering which parent is lying to them. What if your spouse tries to retaliate with a custody battle in court? Airing out someone else’s dirty laundry will inevitably cause them to react in ways you never thought of.
Stick To Your Side Of The Story
Maybe the kids really want to know what happened, and you feel compelled to give them some kind of closure. You can’t answer for your ex, nor should you, but you can answer for yourself. If you deem your particular circumstances as necessary to tell your kids; you’ve thought long and hard about whether or not you should; and you have prayed about it and even sought the wise counsel of those that can speak intelligently into your life about this; then certainly, proceed.
However, it’s important to make sure that what you tell your kids is age-appropriate and brief. Do not overwhelm them with too much information and certainly do not tell them things that they will not understand because of age. If there is more that you want to tell them, but their age doesn’t warrant it at this time, then tell them the rest as they get older and have matured to a level that they can understand. It is okay to share these things in increments.
Most importantly, make sure that you are coming from a perspective that will build your kids up and not damage them. They may hurt from what you tell them, but if you approach it from sharing only your side of the story, and do it in a loving and caring way, you’ll go a long way to mitigating damage with your kids. Being open and honest with your kids in this way is a good thing, and can deepen your bond with them.
You may also be interested in 3 Steps To Create A Healthy Parenting Plan After Divorce