"Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom." -- Thomas Jefferson
"Truth never damages a cause that is just." -- Mahatma Gandhi
Programs for "Parents who have made the decision to divorce"
Most states now have legislation for "Co-parenting education" for "parents who have made the decision to divorce". These programs always have instructions for the parents to talk the chidren about the reasons for divorce.
These programs might do some good – for the minority of divorces where both parents agreed to the divorce and where the parents get along reasonably well. These are the cases where the parents probably should not have divorced in the first place. But if they have made that decision and it was mutual, the co-parenting training will help them to feel less guilty and might help the kids a little bit.
But a more typical divorce probably involved an extramarital affair and was probably filed unilaterally by just one party. The defendant has already had his or her life stripped away, perhaps been forced out of his home, and probably been separated from his/her children. In these cases, the co-parenting programs are insulting. They do little to help the children but they do help to perpetuate the divorce culture. Co-parenting programs involve Orwellian double-speak of a state agency which claims to be looking out for the children but actually is looking out for itself.
Politically correct lies
The defending parent will be forced to tell the children that both parents are equally responsible for what has happened – even if that is an outrageous lie. Parents must tell the children that everything will be fine and no harm will come from divorce, though this flies in the face of years of social science research which says otherwise.
In some cases, depending on the ages of the children, maybe they really be better off from hearing these pretty lies than hearing the truth.
A better way (for older children)
A better way to talk to older children is to give honest answers to their questions. Do not attack the other parent, but also do not tell lies to protect the other parent. Don't try to create an atmosphere of blame or put emphasis on whose fault the divorce was, but don't say that Mom and Dad are equally responsible if it isn't true. If an extramarital affair was the reason for the divorce and if the kids are old enough to understand what that means, then answer honestly that it happened. Try to make clear that people make mistakes sometimes, and that the Other Woman or Other Man was also involved in breaking up the family. Don't condone adultery. Don't apologize to your kids if you didn't file for divorce, didn't consent to it, didn't have an affair, and you did nothing wrong to cause the divorce. Let them know that you love them and will do your best to help them through this difficult time.
If your children are very young, then it will be appropriate to wait a few years to have this discussion.
The discussion must be done in private between the defending parent and the children, not in the presence of the divorcing parent or anybody of the Family Law establishment. The divorcing parent might have a stronger case for taking custody if it becomes known the defending parent talked to the children honestly.
Truthful but non-blaming discussions with older children are important not only to show respect and honesty to your children, but also for long term custody. The courts will set up custody schedules for now, but eventually the children will be old enough that their own preferences will make a difference. Also, eventually the kids will grow up and be involved in relationships themselves. We know that children of divorce are statistically more likely to have marriages that end in divorce than children of intact familiies, but if they know the facts maybe they will be able to make better decisions.