Back in the 90’s the famous children’s television show, Sesame Street, decided to tackle the sensitive topic of divorce. “A team of its best writers, researchers and producers” created a segment complete with half a dozen revisions and input from the foremost researchers in the field to produce the show. However, when Sesame Street tested the segment on a preschool audience featuring the beloved character Snuffy telling a muppet friend about his parents impending divorce, “it was nothing short of a disaster”. The children tearfully worried about where Snuffy would live, worried his parents didn’t love him anymore, and were scared their own parents would get a divorce too. A Sesame Street researcher who worked on the segment summed it up, stating, “we thought this was really revolutionary, and then it was just bad.” Two decades since, producers avoided the “D” word altogether, only recently offering off-air resources – the whole fiasco underscoring just how difficult it is to discuss divorce with kids.
Breaking News of Divorce to Children
Parents are naturally concerned about their child’s feelings and ability to adjust when they decide to divorce. It is therefore important for parents to work together to plan when, how, and what they will tell their children and prepare to answer basic questions and provide support. If communication has broken down, parents can enlist the help of a mediator or counselor to discuss the best approach.
Many agree that it is important for the whole family to gather together to discuss the divorce. When parents show a united front, kids understand that their parents are committed to working together as parents, alleviating some of their concerns. If like many families, parents have both younger and older kids, providing basic information to everyone initially than circling back to older kids with more details is preferred so that everyone has the benefit of learning about the divorce firsthand from their parents.
Even though there may be a fair amount of acrimony between divorcing spouses, put your best foot forward and “avoid the temptation to assign blame or fault” when discussing the breakdown of the marriage. A good rule of thumb is to use “we” messages such as “we have tried to work out our differences but haven’t been able to” or “we want the arguing to stop”, which not only explains why you have decided to divorce but also that it is something you mutually agree upon.
Of course kids want to know how their parents’ divorce will affect their lives directly. They should understand “where they will live, with whom, and what will change” in their daily and future routines. Will they attend the same schools? Will they be able to see friends? How will holidays work? A glimpse of what will remain the same and what will be different helps kids feel more control over their lives when changes occur. Of course, parents may not have all the answers just yet and it is ok to acknowledge that up front – let them know divorce is an evolving process and there will be more opportunities to discuss how everyone is feeling and make adjustments.
Above all, it is important that kids know they are loved – “parents divorce each other, not their kids.” Although, kids’ reactions may include tears, fears or even anger, providing reassurance, support, and sometimes needed space can help. It’s understandable for kids and even parents to be upset so long as parents “control their emotions enough so that the children do not feel they need to take care of them. Parents modeling their own healing and recovery over time helps kids adapt and heal too.”
Contact Our Libertyville Illinois Family Law Office
Contact Illinois Family Law Attorney Ronald L Bell & Associates for answers to your questions regarding divorce, child custody and support, marital asset and debt division and spousal maintenance at 847-495-6000.
Source: Time, “Sesame Street Tackles Touchy Topic of Divorce”; Psychology Today, “How to Tell Your Kids About a Separation or Divorce”, accessed September 2020.