Don and Betty Draper are getting a divorce – and parents around the globe are watching in dismay. While the stars of Mad Men are just characters in a popular TV drama, the way these two very self-absorbed parents broke the news to their children was heart-breaking and eye-opening at the same time.
Not surprisingly, most viewers picked up on how poorly this major life challenge was handled by both Don and Betty. Looking over their shoulders we can gasp at their insensitivity to the plight of their children, grimace at their poor communication skills and wonder what they were thinking as they sat together as a family in the formal living room.
When the situation comes home and touches our own lives, however, it appears our perspective gets fuzzy and we easily lose our awareness about how dramatically the children are being affected.
Fortunately there is much we can learn from watching the errors Don and Betty made as they stumbled through the conversation. Here’s some sound and sane advice:
1. Prepare in advance. Talk together as Mom and Dad to get on the same page and agree on your message, the degree of disclosure and how to approach each child, whether separately or together as a family.
2. Understand that this is about the children. Agree not to argue, point fingers or lay blame (even if you feel justified!)
3. Repeatedly tell your children they are in no way responsible for these circumstances (even if you’ve been fighting about them!) They are innocent and need to be told so.
4. Keep the communication age-appropriate. Children are not confidents for adult-level information (no matter how tempting)!
5. Remind the children how much you love them and always will – no matter what may change!
6. Remind them that you will always be their Mom and Dad – forever!
7. Talk about the changes ahead as being another chapter in your family’s life — and that change is a natural part of living. It may be scary but it can also be better (especially if there has been tension, fighting and other stressors that have been affecting the children).
8. Answer their questions as completely as you can with sincerity and compassion. It’s okay not to have all the details in place. Your children need comfort and reassurance at this time. There will be other conversations ahead.
9. Be sensitive to their emotions and reactions. They may want hugs, scream out in rage or to run away and cry. Be there for them in every way you can.
10. Remember that children love and feel connected to both parents. Anything you do or say to pull them away from their other parent will create pain, confusion and guilt for them and negative consequences for you – both in the short and long-term!
11. Never force your children to choose between Mom and Dad. It promotes guilt and anxiety. Make those decisions for them so they don’t feel the burden of responsibility.
12. Keep life as normal as possible and continue as many routines as you can: school, sports, friends, extended family visits, celebrations, etc. (Don’t take off and leave the kids with a sitter while you arrange for divorce proceedings in another state!)
13. Try the innovative approach that worked for me and hundreds of my readers around the world: create a personal family storybook with family history and photos in advance and present to the kids as the basis for your conversation. They can reread it again and again and be comforted by the messages you are sharing. You’ll get advice from six therapists along with fill-in-the-blank templates and my own how-do guidance in How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children – with Love? Learn more at www.howdoitellthekids.com.
If you keep your children’s well-being at the forefront of your mind during and long after the dreaded divorce talk, you’ll make wiser decisions on your children’s behalf. Remember they will ultimately grow up and hold you accountable for how you handled these tough times. Seek professional assistance and continue to be the best parent you can be. They will thank you in the years to come!
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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, is the author of the professionally acclaimed ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids … about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook™ Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For more information, her free articles, free ezine, coaching services and other resources on child-centered divorce, go to: http://www.childcentereddivorce.com.
© Rosalind Sedacca 2009 All rights reserved.