By Dena Landon
There are phone calls full of excitement and joy – calling my Mom to tell her my boyfriend had proposed, asking my sister to be in my wedding, calls to discuss dresses, catering and planning. And then there are calls you dread – calling your family to tell them it’s over.
Since I live in a different state I consider myself lucky that I didn’t have to face them in person. But many women may have to ask for financial help, or if they can move back home, or tell families face to face. Or you may have already consulted with your parents before taking that final step. Family circumstances vary but below are a few suggestions on how to tell your family you’re getting divorced.
Let’s get the tough one out of the way first, shall we? The initial announcement.
I’d recommend starting off with a simple statement and giving them time to process it. They might be in shock, particularly if you’ve been putting on a good front at family gatherings, and inundating them with explanations and justifications could backfire. Be prepared, know what you’re going to say and how you want to say it.
Don’t lie to your family but do prepare a way to politely excuse yourself should the situation become emotionally fraught.
If you come from a religious family like mine and the Bible verses start to fly take a verbal step back. I grew up in an extremely religious home. Church, youth group and Bible study. My grandmother paid me an allowance for memorizing Bible verses. All the usual ones – man leaves his parents, becomes one with the wife, let no man put asunder what God has joined, etc. – were in the back of my head when it came time to tell my grandparents I’d left my ex. Acknowledge their beliefs and possible emotional reaction – I know this might upset you – but also take a firm stance – I’m aware of your beliefs but it’s not helpful for me to hear them right now.
Despite your dread, they may surprise you by responding with love and support. Not a single one of my family members brought up a religious objection. They did, however, offer lots of opinions and advice.
It’s only natural for your family to want to know what happened and to ask questions. They may try to talk you out of your decision, or ask if you’ve thought it through. If it’s your ex who initiated the divorce don’t be surprised if your dad picks up the phone to chew him out. Even if they’re trying to help or sympathetic you may not want to hear it that day.
Set clear boundaries to control the conversation. “As I’m sure you can understand; this is difficult for me. I’d appreciate it if you’d just stick to this topic,” is helpful if the discussion wanders into areas you’d rather not discuss. If you’re truly concerned that a conversation could veer into uncomfortable territory or drag on too long, give yourself an out. Go over to your parents’ house or pick up the phone when you have a coffee date or an appointment within a certain amount of time afterwards. Don’t lie to your family but do prepare a way to politely excuse yourself should the situation become emotionally fraught.
Divorce is hard financially, we know, but even if you’ve got it covered you still might need or want emotional support. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. If it’s your parents, even if you’re fifty years old you’re still their child. They may be floundering, wishing they could help but not wanting to step on any toes. Don’t be afraid to ask for a hug, or express a need to talk. If all you want is a sympathetic ear, tell them that! “I just need to talk, but I’m not looking for advice,” lets them know why you’re coming to them and, hopefully, they’ll listen. If they don’t, feel free to gently remind them.
Even in the best of families there may be drama. Extended family may cycle through anger, shock, judgment and blame. Just remember – you are not responsible for their emotions. You do not have to take them on or internalize them. You are not doing this to anyone – i.e., how could you do this to me; you are either making the best decision for yourself and your children or responding the best you can to a choice that your ex-spouse made. Resist any pressure to apologize for your decisions.
Even in the best of families there may be drama. Just remember – you are not responsible for their emotions.
Once over the initial hurdle of breaking the news and the first few days or weeks of discussions it’s likely everyone will calm down. By learning how to set boundaries and protect yourself with them you’re also setting yourself up for success later on down the road when you start dating again.
None of the divorce process is easy, in my opinion, even if the split is amicable. But it is doable and you will make it through. Handled correctly your family may become one of your biggest cheerleaders in the process.
About the author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.