Separation is a distressing time for everyone involved, especially children. Part of helping children cope with the situation is how a parent breaks the news to them. It’s not easy for parents to talk to children about separation but it needs to be done.
Wait for the right time
You shouldn’t tell them until you are both composed and can present a united and reassuring front. Tell the children something before you separate so that things can sink in. If you can tell the children together, do so. Make sure you both know what you’re going to say beforehand. You will need time to answer questions and reassure the children.
Acknowledge that it’s been a difficult decision to make and that it will be hard for everyone in the family to get used to.
Explain that, while you can no longer live together as husband and wife, you will always be their parents. Talking to older children about adult love and marriage can help them appreciate how complex relationships are.
Keep it simple
Try to convey the reason for separation in a simple way and leave out the bits which blame the other parent. Make statements like, “We like one another in some ways, but can’t live with each other”.
Say that some of the things that happened between you are difficult to explain and that you know it won’t be easy for them to understand.
Glenda Banks, in her book ‘Helping Your Child through Separation and Divorce’, has a very good rule of thumb… “Don’t bite off more than your child can swallow.” Make sure you tell them that they are not to blame for the separation. Give lots of reassurance that you will always be their parents and will always love them. Also, tell them that nothing they can do will change the situation.
Talk about the living arrangements; be positive. Talk about how the parent who is to move away will maintain contact – by phone calls, letters, visits, videos, emails, faxes.
Be prepared for questions
Make sure you’re ready to discuss things like:
- What will become of birthday and Christmas celebrations?
- Will both parents go to special school events?
- How will the other parent receive invitations?
- What will happen during the holidays?
Remember to say that good things, as well as sad, come from the separation, and talk about the positive things.
Give them time
At first, you may not get much of a reaction; they may need time for the news to sink in. Prepare for tears and anger, wanting to talk or not wanting to talk. In short, get ready for a variety of responses and to listen to your children.
The way you and your ex-partner behave will have an impact on your children’s ability to adjust well to the separation, now and in the future.