Telling your child that divorce is coming

Just a few miles south of Bethesda sits the nation’s capital and the highly regarded newspaper that has covered it for more than 140 years. While the Washington Post is known for its political coverage, it also features advice columnist Carolyn Hax.

The headline above a recent Hax column grabbed our attention: “How and when to tell your 10-year-old about your upcoming divorce.”

Being there

A woman wrote in wondering how to tell her child about the upcoming divorce. The couple has been living separately, with the child living with the mother full-time. She wants to tell her child about the divorce, but her spouse insists that the conversation shouldn’t begin until he can be there – though he has been unwilling to say when he will be there.

The mother wants to know if she should go ahead on her own and have the difficult conversation (apparently not an uncommon occurrence in her marriage) and asks whether the talk should be in “in one, hey-let-me-tell-you-this-information conversation” or should it be done in “slow trickles.”

Factors to consider

Hax replied that there are three important components of the unusual situation to consider carefully: the child’s right to know; the spouse’s right to be present and have his say; the woman’s history with her spouse and difficult conversations.

“Your child’s sense of security is paramount,” she writes in reply. Because the conversation with the child won’t end in disruptions to living arrangements, there is a bit of extra weight to be given to the spouse’s right to be there and the woman’s history with a spouse who declines to participate in difficult conversations.

Setting the tone

Hax writes that it should be a no-trickle conversation and that in it, the woman should “set the proper tone for post-divorce collaboration by respecting your spouse’s place in the family.”

Hax also says the woman doesn’t “have to be patient forever” and that she should set a deadline for her spouse. If he can’t arrange to be part of the important discussion within a month, she should say something like this: “then we either Zoom or I tell Child myself.”