Telling your teen about the divorce will be a painful ordeal. In their eyes, that marriage was the bedrock of the family – seeing it dissolved within a few words can be extremely overwhelming.
It’ll never be a seamless transition here, but you can at least work to cushion the blow. Make sure that your child learns that the end of this marriage doesn’t mean the end of their family. Things will change, but they’ll remain just as loved – by both of you – no matter how things play out.
Don’t spring the divorce on them if they’re busy handling other things – wait for a good time. Make sure both you and your partner are present for this important talk.
Your teen needs to understand that they aren’t being pushed to pick sides. They deserve to know how things will be – what’s changing in their life and what’ll be staying the same. Keep your teen updated with how the divorce is going for the sake of their peace of mind.
Your teen will be launched into uncomfortably unfamiliar territory with the announcement. Prioritize doing everything in your power to ground them to something stable.
1. Know When It’d be the Best Time To Tell Them
We won’t sugarcoat it here: there isn’t really a good time to break this sort of news. Most people will wait for better opportunities for this, but won’t ever be satisfied. Delaying the decision only compounds the issue. While there’s no rush to tell your teen, don’t drag out the announcement.
That said, you can certainly when it’s a bad time! News of divorce can rattle the family pretty badly, so you want to avoid springing this when your teen has something big coming up in their lives – exams, school applications, organization work, or other tasks that demand their focus.
This also applies to when they’ve got things to look forward to soon. News of the divorce could sour their next few days with negative sentiments. We’d recommend that you not break the news over holidays or other special occasions – the divorce might irrevocably taint them for your teen.
Have Something To Show Them
If you’re breaking the news, you need to have some direction or plan to work with. You can’t just spring them on your teen without some forethought – you’d just make them share your anxiety. Only break the news of your divorce when you know what the next step you’ll take will be.
2. Make Sure Both You and Your Partner are Present for It
Your teen might think that this divorce will tear the family apart. They might take this happening personally, or think about what they could have done to avoid things reaching this point.
Even if you try convincing them that it isn’t their fault, your voice alone won’t be credible enough to convince them. Both you and your soon-to-be ex need to be there to break the news, as the united front parents set shouldn’t end with the dissolution of their marriage.
As much as possible, both of you need to be present to keep your teen from blaming themselves.
It won’t be a pleasant conversation, and your teen might lash out at one or both of you. Couples can fall out of love for any number of reasons, but their kids had nothing to do with the decision. More importantly, your teen won’t be loved any less after the divorce – make sure they know that.
It’s a sad fact that divorce rarely proceeds this amiably. Some couples may not even be able to stand each other after the fact! Breaking the news in this situation is a lot more delicate.
There’s also a possibility that this divorce was not a fully mutual decision – the person that doesn’t want this may refuse to acknowledge its necessity, which just delays the pain for not only your teen but the entire family moving forward.
Sitting down to talk openly could be the last thing they want – and while you might be able to strongarm their presence in the discussion, you can’t do a thing to secure their cooperation.
As much as possible, strive to convince your partner that telling your teen about the divorce is wholly necessary for everyone’s well-being. Your partner could be frustrated, angry, or hurt, but as a parent, they need to recognize that their children’s needs ought to take precedence.
Some parents may still refuse despite that, however. You may have to talk to your teen about this sensitive topic alone – and consequently bear the brunt of their confused frustration.
No matter how bad it gets, don’t talk down or hate on your partner. While you might be justified to hold some misgivings, sharing them will only rattle your teen emotionally. Your teen isn’t there to let you vent your grief – leave them be to process their own.
As far as your teen is concerned, you’re getting a divorce because you and your partner can’t make things work in the marriage. They don’t need the nitty-gritty negativity or other sordid details because they won’t be in a position to make things better.
If you have to talk to your teen about the divorce on your own, ensure that the discussion focuses on how they feel and where the family is going now – not simply on what went wrong.
3. Don’t Let Your Teen Feel Pressured to Pick Sides
Your teen might feel that they need to choose who to support between you and your partner. It’s a common assumption that also happens to make processing the situation simpler for them. It’s also problematic – your marriage might have dissolved, but the family you made together shouldn’t be.
Your teen should never be placed in a position to choose. This divorce is already so much to take in, and your teen will be left absolutely gutted if they feel the need to decide on which parent they’d support and – by proxy – love more.
It’s not always something you can help – teens are entitled to their own opinion, and not all divorces are clean, mature, and mutual. Depending on certain contexts, your teen might end up picking sides no matter what.
All you need to ensure is that neither you nor your partner is pushing your teen to pick a side in this situation. The conflict here isn’t who’s right or who’s wrong in the marriage, but how you can all make this family work – together!
4. Clarify How You’ll Be Handling Things Now
Divorce can change not only home relationships but also things like expenses, living conditions, quality time availability, etc. All of these adjustments put together can get daunting. What your teen needs most right now is something they can ground themselves to.
It’s common to discuss what changes in a divorce, but you need to focus on what won’t change. The familiarity the latter offers is a huge comfort in these trying times, so give it importance during your conversation with your teen about the divorce.
Will they be going to the same school as they always had? Where will they spend their weekends now? Do they still have the same curfew before bed? Stuff like that might not seem so important, but those bits of clarity are everything to your teen right now.
Once you’ve talked about what’s staying the same, gently introduce the changes divorce might bring to this family. Will you and your ex-partner still be living in the same household? Are the two of you working out a custody schedule? Can the two of you spend time together, despite the divorce, for the sake of your teen – or is that off the table now?
Your teen needs to know what to expect. Start with what won’t be changing, then work your way towards introducing this whole new world to them – preferably with the help of your co-parent. Do be mindful of keeping your boundaries with them safe and appropriate (ADD INAPPROPRIATE STEPPARENT BOUNDARIES LINK).
5. Keep Them Posted As The Situation Develops
Telling your teen about the divorce isn’t a one-and-done deal, but rather an active process that demands constant updates. It’s about keeping each other in the loop and unlearning old boundaries to make way for new ones in the family.
Your teen needs time to process their feelings, while you and your ex-partner need to sort out how things will be from now on. That transition will take some finesse, patience, and understanding on everyone’s part. The first conversation will be the hardest, but things will settle down in time.
It’s tempting to let this topic die down once you’ve broken the news, but doing so would be unfair to your teen. They may not be deciding things here, but they’re just as important to this family. They deserve to know, even if the news might be unpleasant to hear.
Hearing Your Teen Out
Keeping them posted on the divorce is important, but you can’t just dump that news on them intermittently. They’ll most likely want to talk about things to process them thoroughly. During that talk, some of their views might clash with your own.
They might try to convince you that the divorce isn’t necessary, or that you can turn back and “make things right”. Alternatively, they might push for more drastic changes like recommending the removal of one of the co-parents from this family dynamic.
Such opinions can be frustrating, but your teen is young and emotional, placed in a volatile situation where they can’t make decisions. All they can do is share their insights, and it would be devastating if even that concession was taken away from them.
Their insights can be flawed, short-sighted, or unrealistic, but as a parent, you need to recognize that your teen is being genuine and truthful. You can correct or clarify some of their mistaken opinions, but you should never make your teen feel that they’re wrong to feel the way they do.
Divorces are rarely pretty, and everyone is in very different positions here. You might hate your partner’s guts, but your teen doesn’t. Don’t hold what they don’t know against them – teach them about the situation, perhaps, but don’t ever force them to share your opinions.
Divorce is always a troublesome topic to bring up, and telling your teen about this won’t be a pleasant experience. While it’s tempting to “protect them from the truth”, this divorce will be a part of their reality. They deserve to know why their life is changing so much. They need to be reassured that they’ll still be loved by both of you – even after the marriage ends!