I am often asked this or a variable of the question during my group coaching sessions. Another very common question is "How do I (We) explain our relationship breakdown to our kids? Especially as research has told us that children of divorce can end up being disillusioned, confused, feel as it it was all their fault, can develop self esteem and behavioral problems just to mention a few.
It for this reason many parents take the stance not to tell the children, especially if they are young. Instead they duck and dive around the issue, make inventive and elaborate excuses why one spouse no longer lives at home or is available to tuck them in at night.
Some parents even go to the extent of hiding their relationship breakdown, separation and/or divorce from their grown up children. This can happen where the children have flown the nest, left town/country and have families of their own. The pretense becomes a little easier to pull off.
If you are a fan of the popular US Sitcom shown here in the UK on channel E4, you may recall episode 3, Season 2 called "Brunch" where Ted's parents come to New York to visit Ted and his friends This visit culminates in a very eventful brunch leading Ted's parents to drop a bombshell and finally admit being divorced ten months ago after a two-year separation. When this kind of scenario occurs a typical excuse is "we didn't want to worry you, that is why we didn't tell you."
Whatever the case, whether young or old, my view is that children should be told about the divorce or relationship breakdown as soon as it is expedient to do so. It also helps the grieving process and provides an air of honesty and integrity.
Besides, children they say are extremely resilient, but before you agree with this premise, perhaps you need to reflect on what does resilience in children actually co notate? To my mind it is when an insular and self-centered adult 'does his/her thing' at the detriment of their children?
In an article published in Psychology Today, under Moral Landscapes on June 13, 2011 Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame expressed and asked
"How resilient are children? If you look at the whole picture of health and well-being, not that much. Believing in children's "resilience" actually may be undermining parenting and social policy."
What does "resilient" mean? Among researchers, it usually means that the person is doing better than expected for the situation they are in; e.g., coping despite neglect, divorce, death, family trauma.
In child development, it means that the person is not a clinical problem or a criminal or a drop out, even though they did not get their basic needs met in some fashion.
Just like my friend and expert, I believe there is a stark contrast between resiliency and thriving. Thriving means that your needs were met during sensitive periods and that you have what you need for well-being.
So let's stop aiming for resilient children, which is just an excuse for minimal care, and start thinking about thriving children. Let's stop keeping secrets from our children but walk in complete integrity and transparency.
While you digest that fact, I strongly encourage you to watch the video below by Sesame street on divorce and children.