So, How Should We Tell Kiddo About The Divorce?

I need help, because I haven’t got a clue. Right now all he knows is that Mommy is going to be gone for a couple of months (I’ve got to go back to the States to actually file and take care of some other things), he has no idea that we’re not going to all be living together again when I come back.

He’s only five years old, poor baby. How do we explain to him that Mommy and Daddy need to be apart? We both tell him how much we love him, and will always love him everyday, but I’m worried he’s going to be afraid that I’ll forget about him while I’m gone.

Sorry this is so poorly worded, I’m just to upset to put things clearly right now. Just looking for some advice, particularly from people who have been there, either as the parent or child.

Poor TinyTot. This is going to be the hardest thing I’ll ever do. :frowning:

Well theres always what my folks did:
MOM: “i’m going to Hawaii for a while on vacation”
ME: “OK, for how long?”
MOM: “I don’t know yet.”

flash forward to a year and half later, when precedings are final.

MOM: “Chris, Your father and I are divirced.”
ME: (jaw drops in genuine surprise) “BUt i thought you were just on vacaion!?!?!”
MY BROTHER: (slaps me across the back of the head for being so dense)

And he’s 3 years younger than i am.

I was pretty upset when they told me, but i have to confess, when I was in elementary school, all of my friends parents were getting dovirces and they all had 2 house and shitloads of toys from parents trying subconsiously to buy the kids affection. WE all thought it was pretty cool and I was actually jealous of the kids with divorced parents. I don’t share this as an endorsment of that kind of shallow mentality, but just as an example of how kids think. I don’t feel like looking it up at the moment (but i will if called out on it) children of divorce generally recover better and socialize better the younger they are when the divorce happens. This makes pretty good sense to me as i don’t think the implications of divorce are as mindblowing to a five year old as they are to a 10 or 12 year old. Kids are still largely egotistical at that point, so mommy and daddys relationships with eachother are dimly percieved if percieved at all. Whats important is that Mommy and Daddy both love Baby.
I don’t envy you, but if I may, the key here for a kid that age is to make sure that you he knows it isn’t his fault. Not being a parent i don’t think i have anything beyond that to offer.
good luck.

I’m very sorry that I can’t offer anything other than the fact that I really, really hope you get the advice you need. I haven’t experienced any of what I’d need to have done to be in position to offer anything other than platitudes.

That said, it seems to me that there is at least one positive thing here; the fact that TinyTot has two parents who love him, and tell him so.

I wish you well…

I forgot to mention the worst part because I was so upset(well, the worst part for me, anyway). TT is going to be living with his father, not me, after the divorce and for reasons far too complicated to explain, we’ll be living in separate countries for part of the time.

Yeah. Ouch.

I’m not too concerned about his father’s ability to care for TT; however lousy a husband he might have been to me he has always been an excellent father. Intellectually, I know that there is no reason a child wouldn’t be just as well off with his father as his mother, but there is that little voice inside going “but you’re his moooommmmmyyyyy”. Sigh.

I’m leaving in about three weeks, so I figure we need to tell him soon. I doubt he’ll understand, but I don’t want to just disappear one day and him have no clue.

My poor little guy. :frowning:


I really dont know what to say. you know where to get me if you need to.

You sit him down and explain how all men are lowlife, lying, cheating, abusive SOB’s and can’t be trusted…
Oh, never mind that isn’t right.
(sorry, but I deal with stuff like this by being sarcastic)

My first hubby and I separated when our daughter was a baby, so I never really had to “explain” anything; it wasn’t like she knew us as being together.
I don’t know what to tell you, other than stay honest, and try your hardest not to say bad things about your ex around him. Even if it kills you, stay friendly with each other in front of TinyTot.
Don’t overcompensate by buying him tons of toys. He’s old enough to be able to see what you’re doing, and will use it to his advantage. Trust me on this one…I teach Kindergarten (5 year olds) and they are Masters of Manipulation.
While you’re gone, be sure to stay in touch with him (phone calls and email, maybe). I can’t even imagine having to be so far away from my kids; I feel bad for you. I hope you will be okay.

I too don’t really know what to say to you hon, but he’s a smart kid and your a great mom so I hope this will work out as good as it can.

My in-box is always open.

This will probably sound all wrong, but I envy TinyTot.

I was 14 when my parents separated. I was old enough to understand how things should be, how I wanted them to be, and a 14-year-old’s psyche isn’t as plastic as a five-year-old’s. The change will be hard for your young’un, but you’ll all be amazed by how quickly he adapts.

Oh yes, and an additional complication for me was that my mother learned about the separation at the same moment I did, so in addition to keeping my own head together I had to keep Mom from sticking her head in the oven, and convince her she was still a valuable, wonderful person even though Dad was leaving her for another woman. Dad tried telling me at the time “Son, this has nothing to do with you.” The hell it didn’t.

What’s coming won’t be easy for your son (for any of you), but don’t beat yourself up over it. As long as you’re both honest and unevasive with him, and civil to each other, everything will be just fine in the long run.

  1. Be honest.
  2. Make sure he knows it’s nothing he did.
  3. Tell him often and often that you love him.
  4. Stay in touch as much as you can.
  5. Stay friendly as you can with Dad. It’ll be easier for all of you.
  6. Don’t over-compensate with toys and relaxing the rules. (No “poor baby, I’ll let him stay up late” or “He’s going through a lot, I won’t scold him when he’s bad.”

Hugs to you, tatertot and for Tiny Tot and Daddy Tot, too, 'cause it won’t be easy for any of you.

Lord, I am so sorry. What a tough thing to have to puzzle out. Surely someone has written a good book on this that might have some really solid suggestions on how to word it, what to emphasize, etc.

From the gut, I’d say the bases you need to cover are that
(a) you both really love him
(b) nobody is in trouble or naughty, not him, you, or his dad.
© you’re sad about having to be away from him for awhile, but you’re not unhappy in life, or with him.

I say that last thing because I think it’s upsetting for little kids to see their parents crying or unhappy. It’s scary.

My sister got a divorce when my nephew was at this age. He said some really funny things, such as “Does this mean we can have popsicles?” His dad always had so much game meat and fish in the freezer, there was never room for frozen treats. Now there would be. Not that he didn’t miss his dad like mad, but his ability to hone in on the positive things like that, in the face of tragedy, provided some real comic relief at a much-needed time.

Mommy and Daddy both love you very much. Mommy has to go live in the States for a while. Daddy will take very good care of you. Mommy will write and call every day.

Since you won’t be able to do visitation, I highly recommend daily contact via phone, e-mail, letters, combinations of the 3. It isn’t necessary to do a long drawn out thing, just a “I saw a funny house today. It was PINK!! can you imagine? I miss you. I love you. Mom”.

If you can get a hold of it, I found the book “Dinosaur’s Divorce” to be supurb. (can’t remember the author). It dealt (in pictures) with the whole thing from angry people to new dating relationships, to fantasies about mom and dad getting back together, and the whole realm of emotions the kid goes through.

Best of luck.

Oh, and remember, too, that even once ‘the talk’ is over, there may be issues later on. For example, Ben’s dad and I split when he was a toddler, I discovered that book several years later when he had some difficulty adjusting to certain changes.

One other thing - it actually is an admirable thing that you’re letting him stay where he is right now. You’ve made a thoughtful, painful decision and have placed your sons best interests above all else (which is both as it should be and very good).

Tracy, any hug I could type would do an injustice to what I am feeling right now. I have been going through this for the last two years. We split on amicable terms and it helped a lot. The number one thing is to let him know you love him unconditionally. Try to be aware of any mood or behavioral changes and understand that little kids work through and express themselves in ways that may seem strange to us.

My kids were 2 and 4 when we split and it has been hard for them, undoubtedly. but compared to the stress of living together and the fighting, we actually got along much better after the split and it helps the kids.

Be prepared for some developmental hiccups. Claire regressed in her potty training and it has been a long struggle. Andrew is still dealing with the separation issues even though we have joint custody. He will keep saying “I love you Daddy” and I know what he really means is “do you love me?” You will need to look at their actions in a more critical light; critical as in thinking about the underlying reasons, not the negative way!

I cannot address the long distance issue as I live very close to my kids, but all I can say is that kids are remarkably resilient and if you keep up the contact, he will survive and grow. Remember, he will benefit from you being happy and if you are able to be there emotionally for him without the stresses of daily fighting, it will be good for him. It will be good for him to see two people communicating civilly- I don’t know your whole story so I can only hope he is able to put the kids welfare above his own needs or bitterness-I’m pretty sure your writing this speaks to your ability to do the same.

Sorry to babble, but this is something I struggle with every day. Know that if you ever need to talk, you have my email. Even though I am on the other side of what you are going through, I can understand your issues and I realize what a brave thing it is you are doing…I certainly couldn’t do it at the time.

Best wishes, Mike


I can’t tell you how sorry I am that you’re going through this. I wish there was more I could do.

But let me give this perspective:

I was 6 when my parents divorced. Clueless me had no idea anything was wrong (what 6 year old understands that sort of thing? A smarter one than I, I suppose).

The finest thing my dad ever did was sit us both down in the living room (Older sister and I) and give it to us straight. I can remember it clean as a bell even now.

I admit it was a terrible thing to go through but, by laying it out there, dad gave us the opportunity to start figuring it out. There’s nothing worse for a child than uncertainty, look how well they love routines and reading the same books endlessly. I’m certain I would have been in much worse shape had it been left to drift on, just sorta hanging there with no resolution.

So do what you can. Don’t let the Tinytot hang out there. Even if he doesn’t understand what’s going on, at least he’ll be aware that changes are happening and he’ll be prepared (even if unwillingly) for them.

And I agree with wring. Daily communication with the tot while you’re away is a good thing. It’ll soften the changes that he’s going through and it’ll continue the bond between you.

Good luck.

I’ve been there, as the child. I was 6, little brother was 4. My parents sat us down and gave us the speech about how they still loved both of us, you know, all the usual things. One thing I remember was that from the get-go, we were having THE BIG TALK, and that was very stressful. Other information in life seemed to come up as natural conversation, in the car, at lunch, etc. Sitting down for THE BIG TALK was weird before Mom or Dad even opened their mouths. The only other BIG TALK had been when the cat died, which was not really a great mood setter for the divorce BIG TALK.

Looking back, I have great sympathy for the 'rents, because they must have been nervous and worried about the conversation themselves. Argh, I don’t think I’m making any sense … but keeping the routine is important to kids, I think, so making the divorce discussion so markedly different from other conversations might be unsettling. If you usually chat with TT in the car on the way home from school, that might be a good time to introduce the topic. (I hope it doesn’t sound as if I’m suggesting that you be nonchalant about it.)

Of course, there was the time a few years ago when little bro and I found out that our parents had never actually been divorced AT ALL, but that’s another story.

Best of luck. It’s a hard thing, but with parents who are obviously so devoted to him, this is not going to be the worst thing in the entire world for little TT.


You won’t be able to win this one. It doesn’t matter how discreetly or gently you break the news. If you hide it and wait, it just eases him into getting used to daddy not being around but it breaks the trust when he eventually finds out that you continually misled him. I know it’s easy to think “he’s only 5” but it will affect him. Do you have to custody situation worked out yet? That will be important, too. Once you tell him the news, he’s going to need to know when or even if, he will see Daddy again.

I remember very very little about my childhood. Very little. The one thing that stands out is when my mom told me and my 2 siblings that she & dad were getting a divorce. I know where each person was sitting, the color of the carpet, the position of the sun in the sky, the relative time of day, etc. It’s now 15 years later and I still see that image as clear as if it was yesterday.

There is no easy way of sharing this information. The best you can do it be kind, gentle, be prepared to answer questions and very possibly deal with some anger directed at you. Just be open, caring, but know that he may try to distance himself from you emotionally, at the same time needing you closer than ever.

It’s tough tater, it really is. I wish you the best of luck and strength through not only this particular aspect, but the divorce as a whole.

Please feel free to email me, although I know you don’t know me very well. I’ve been on the child’s end, so at least I can offer that POV.


Man, this is tough. I feel for you on the mommy proprietary urge. But it sounds like you are trying to do your best for the TaterTot, and that counts more than location.

Okay, I’ve been through this a few times myself - as the kid. I had 6 parents (that being just my side) at my wedding. My advice:

  1. Be honest, but be breif. Don’t go into long explanations, but provide the facts at his level.

  2. Do not ask his opinion about your divorce. Ask his feelings, but not his opinion. It sounds like you didn’t/won’t do this, but I’m just reinforcing - the kid does NOT get to pick at this age, and even vaguely suggesting that they have a choice in the matter is WRONG. And do not ever explain to him what he should feel, or downplay his feelings. Not even “I know you’ll get used to it very soon”. ‘I hope’ is okay, I know is crushing. Make understanding noises, and let them talk.

  3. Always be positive about the other parent. Kids will figure out the parent’s issues on their own. Also be positive about any additional parents that come into the picture. I LIKED having extra parents, and it was very clear to me that none were replacements for anyone, they were just more, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I saw their shortcomings with my own eyes. And it was nice not to feel like my mom would be heartbroken if I offered genuine affection to my step-mom. My emotions were mine to manage, and I loved both my bio-parents all the more for their willingness to keep their opinions to themselves, and let me develop my relationships with the other adults without interference (at least none where I could see it!).

  4. Daily contact sounds like a good idea, at least at first - if you can’t call, make sure there’s an email in the in box that day. I didn’t have daily contact with my dad, and he became vague very fast, only gaining more concrete presence after I was about 7 or so. Afer a while, you might want to discuss (in a casual way) with TT how often the contact is desired from his end - daily might also be a burden, an extra task, and an emotional drain/guilt trip. Weekly or a few times a week is probably where it will end up. I never lived near my non-custodial parent, and we certainly did not have daily contact, nor would I have welcomed it. Regular, yes, daily would have been too much. We did the long visit in the summer, instead of constant contact. I actually like the long visit idea better than multiple short ones (or at least in addition to short ones), because it makes it possible to develop a daily/real-time relationship with the parent. Much more ‘real’. It also makes it possible to develop an understanding of the parent’s strengths and flaws, and keeps perspective on what life would be like with the other parent (chores, parent working, and so forth). I guess it just feels honest to me.

  5. Keep the ‘goodies’ at the attention level, more than the gift level. Even if you are proxying someone else’s attention, like if you arrange for TT and his dad to go to the zoo or something, with the understanding that YOU sent him the tickets/passes. Gifts are cool, too, but they don’t demonstrate love as well as you’d think. Pictures and audio are good in combination, too (low tech, but fun). (My dad would go for a walk somewhere neat, and talk into the tape-recorder about what he saw, while taking pictures - then send us the photos and the audio, so we could ‘go along’ on the walk with him. His walks in Thailand were the source of my life-long love of things Asian, up to and including my Master’s Degree in Chinese Cultural Geography.) Thanks to email and instant messaging, you may be able to do things like help with homework, too.

  6. Art therapy (or other therapy) for a kid this age would be a good idea. There are programs in various places for kids dealing with greif (which he will be dealing with), either from divorce or a death or illness in the family. Please, please consider some kind of counseling program for him. Greif is hard to understand at this age. And anger is very frightening to express, especially when the world just changed in a way you never anticipated was possible, and certainly expressing rage at your parent(s) at this point is terrifying. Boys in particular seem to be prone to submurging their feelings because the feelings are too overwhelming, and also because they are concerned with taking care of their parent’s feelings and don’t want to add to the parental burden.

  7. Keep in touch with school while you are away. Find out when you can call the teacher, and call on a regular (if not frequent) basis. Ask about who his friends are, what things he enjoys, etc. Ask if there are projects that you could participate in (some schools do things with photos of parents or places around the world…), so that you can send him materials in time for the project/event. You also may be able to send stuff straight to school for larger programs/projects (like sending in video or photos of a location they are studying, say). I hated having to update my dad on what I did in school, both on the phone and when I did summer visitations.

  8. Remain the grownup. Do not let him take care of your feelings. It is very sweet to have little kids come give you a hug to comfort you because you’ll be so sad and miss them so much. But the reason they hug you is to make you strong enough that you’ll be able to hug them and make them feel better. Don’t let him prop you up. If he tries, tell him that you are strong, and you will be okay, even if you are very sad. And tell him you will be there for him, when he is sad, because you are his mommy, and that’s part of your job.

That’s all I can think of for now. It is entirely possible to do this without it being a disaster, but it will feel like you are walking blindfolded in a mine field for a while, until you get the pattern down. Keep in mind that your long-term goal in parenting is to raise an adult with whom you will have a relationship, not just to experience the child-to-adult relationship first-hand. Childhood is fleeting, but that is not a reason to under-value the eventual benefits of an adult relationship with your kid. The goodies are still there in the adult-child/adult-parent relationship, and there are even some bonus ones you never had before. Plus, you’ll have that adult/adult relationship longer than the child/adult one.

Hang in there.

You’ve received some very good advice from thoughtful posters. The only thing I can add is something I remember from a TV talk show: too many divorces are explained to children as a ‘real estate’ matter – Daddy is moving,
Mommy is taking a long vacation – these statements don’t explain anything and only further the child’s bewilderment.

My ex and I divorced when our daughter was five. I realize now that despite our good intentions, we were inadequate in our explanations. Yes, we used the ‘real estate’ explanation which only added to the confusion and left her to believe that this was only a temporary measure. Now that she is an adult and we can talk about this rationally I realize we failed her miserably.

It’s not surprising that the child feels he/she is at fault and will continue to hope that all will be reconciled. Behavior may change so that the child attains that goal and the change may be temporarily for better or worse, depending upon the child’s mindset.

There will be some repercussions if neither you nor your ex remarries and/or remains in a stable relationship. Children of divorce don’t learn conflict resolution, don’t learn the dynamics of making a relationship work. Generally we learn to parent from how we were parented and learn the dynamics of marriage from our parents’ marriages.

My parents were terrific individually; as a couple they should have divorced early on. Religion kept them together and produced some strange dynamics. Because they would never divorce, they avoided pain by ignoring one another. My Dad became a workaholic, my Mom an overly protective, smothering mother. They never argued - what would be the point? - and my brother and I were brought up in a household where they were cold toward one another, where conflict never arose and could never be reconciled.

Sorry for the hijack - divorce (or lack therof) can be devastating years later.

Best of luck to all of you.

Sorry… no advice, just my best wishes, tatertot. Keep your head up.

I’m very sorry to hear about your divorce.

I feel you are getting good advice all around.

I’d like to give some anecdotal evidence from my experience (I was 5 when my parents divorced). I think it will emphasize the above advice to be honest and take care in explaining the divorce to your child.

We (myself and my siblings) were told absolutely nothing. One day my dad didn’t come home (he was having an affair). We visited him a couple of times at the apartment of the other woman. I was still clueless here (as we had been around the woman often growing up, it was not strange to see dad in her company). One day we were loaded into a car with a bunch of our belongings and driven away. We got to drive by dad and wave bye to him from the car. I thought we were going on vacation. We were driven 3 states away.

After that, joint custody of us meant that we spent 9 months with my mom in one state and 3 months with my dad in another state. I did get to see both parents but nothing was explained. We were just left to figure it out.

We were never told that they were getting a divorce (much less how, why, etc.) It didn’t hit me until sometime in the first school year away from my dad when someone in my class said my parents were divorced. (Although I knew somthing was up I didn’t want to/ couldn’t put it together). I yelled at them that it wasn’t true and ran out of the classroom into the school yard. I was forced to face it then. Alone. It was terrible.

Wow! Sorry about the hijcack. It has been nearly 25 years…I thought I was well over that.

Anyway, I’m sure you are planning on explaining it to your child (hence your call for advice in this thread). I just wanted to emphasize that the “going away on vacation” tack is a terrible way to go.

I went through this 3 years ago. I tried my best to be honest as possible, without giving them too much information. My kids were 3,5 & 7 at the time. Paraphrased a bit is what I said:

“Me and your Mom have decided that it’s best if we don’t live with each other anymore. That doesn’t mean they we don’t love you, or that you did anything wrong. But we feel things would be better for you if we lived in different places. I will always be there for you if you need me.”

There were some other things but that was the gist of it. What I found was helpful was calling often. When they came to visit, I would always try to spend the first few hours just listening to what they had to say. Surprisingly almost none of it had to do with me and their Mom. I also gave my kids a bunch of my business cards (they still carry these around, now that they live with me) it seemed to give them a concrete sense of my presence, (YMMV)try photos too.

That said, I agree with other posters here that it’s better now instead of when she’/he’s older. My kids seem to have bounced back nicely. There are still occasional situs. But on the whole, younger kids are amazingly resilient. I’m sure they stopped feeling the pain of the divorce long before I did.

Wishing you the best!