Gary has three rules about the right way to break the news of your divorce to your children.
- Rule 1: Tell the entire family at once. "Sit down together. We're still going to be together as a family, even at the moment of breaking up," he says.
- Rule 2: You must convey the crucial messages in the first 45 seconds. "You say three things: 'Mom and Dad made each other very sad and we think that it's best for the family that Mom and Dad live apart. You guys are going to spend plenty of time with both of us in our homes. And it is absolutely not your fault. You did nothing to cause this.'"
- Rule 3: Both partners must practice the conversation together before talking to the kids.
Once you break the news to your children, Gary says it's important to listen and help them deal with their sadness. "They [may] start crying, and then you hold hands. You hug. You sit. You allow them to ask questions."
One thing Gary says many children ask is, "Why is this happening to me?" When faced with this question, parents should avoid bad-mouthing their spouses. "There's a couple things we have to explain to kids. We don't want to give them specific reasons, because we don't want to start blaming each other. Number one is to give them some general ideas that are meaningful, [such as], 'In our marriage, we didn't love each other enough. We were too selfish. Maybe we didn't get help early enough. We said nasty things that we couldn't take back,'" he says. "Real things that maybe they can learn from your mistakes under those circumstances."