When separation/divorce becomes inevitable …. How do you tell your children?

by Jenny Friedland on March 21, 2011

Separation Divorce”I am 20 now and my brother is 17. My parents separated when we were 11 and 8. I can honestly say that my parents’ divorce really messed me and my brother up. I went from being a straight A student and to getting F’s within 3 months of my father moving out, and us moving away. The same thing happened with my brother. After a while I started wagging school, fighting with my friends, getting into trouble with the teachers and eventually I dropped out. Since then, I realized I let my parents’ problems affect my life, and I started getting my life back on track. I went back to get my HSC and am in college now. But I had made a lot of mistakes, and it was a big hole to crawl out of. My brother is still really screwed up. He has been smoking pot and drinking for many years now. I now understand that one of the many reasons why my father left, was that he was having an affair. I was so angry with him for such a long time, that I refused to see him. I sabotaged my relationship with my boyfriend because he discovered that I was going through his phone. I obviously have many trust issues. I was feeling that he will hurt me like my dad hurt my mom. My brother isn’t in school at all. He loses job after job, and I am worried that he will end up in jail. I know my Dad cheated on my Mom, but they had problems way before that happened. I think what hurt me the most, was moving away, changing schools, and blaming my Dad without hearing his story, and feeling like I had to take sides”.

Do you understand the impact of how separation/divorce will affect your children? Are you telling them about the impending separation in a way that is age appropriate? Are you keeping them and their needs at the top of your priority? What should you say? When should it be done? How much information should you give them? Would your strategy and behaviour be vastly different, if you understood how your words and behaviour impact on your children?

Here’s your opportunity to learn about how you can talk to your children and the upcoming separation and how you can prepare them.

When separation occurs, it is a very emotionally painful and overwhelming time for all involved. At times one feels alone with little support.

As a parent, talk to people about what is going on for you. Talk to your neighbour, your doctor, your religious leader, your friends, your family, talk to a psychologist. Just talk! Talk to anyone you feel safe and comfortable with. However, don’t talk to your children or use them as a sounding board. As a parent you need to help your children understand that they will adapt to the new schedule, new environment and new ways of communicating. Remember that life is long, time heals, and that this stressful situation and overwhelming feelings is temporary and will pass.

Here are 10 tips for how to tell your children about the impending separation

  1. If you and your partner are able to tell the children together, to be a united front, that will be better for the children. If not, it is important for you and your partner to talk to your children individually, but you both need to be contained and composed.
  2. It would be a good strategy to tell your children before all the changes occur. It will give them time to process the information and let it sink in.
  3. Make sure you and your partner have worked out a rough plan, so that you can provide your children with some answers. They will have questions about which parent they are going to be living with, whether they have to move, can they stay at the same school, when will they see their other parent? By providing routines kids can rely on, you remind children they can count on you for stability, structure and care.
  4. Acknowledge how difficult this decision has been, and recognise that it will be hard for everyone.
  5. Focus on how you will always be their parents, even though you are deciding not to live with one another.
  6. It is important that you convey that this is a decision made by both of you, and don’t blame the other parent.
  7. Repeat many times during the conversation that they are not to blame and give lots of assurance that they will be ok, they will get through this, and they can talk to you about their feelings.
  8. Tell the children about the living arrangements. Talk about how they will be able to maintain contact.
  9. Let the children know that some difficult times are going to result from the separation, but that some positive changes will happen too.
  10. Be prepared for a variety of reactions from your child – disbelief, relief, shock, anger, guilt, wanting to talk, not wanting to talk, feeling they are to blame, confusion, trying to get you to change your mind, feeling scared of an unpredictable future, and being concerned that you might divorce them too. Your patience and reassurance can minimize anxiety as children learn to cope with new circumstances.

No matter how old your children are, they will be impacted upon by your decision to separate. Children have no say in their family breaking up, but usually are the ones most affected by it. Let them know that they can’t change your decision and they can’t bring you back together. If things get worse rather than better after several months, it may be a sign that your child is stuck in depression, anxiety or anger and could use some professional, additional support.

They will need your support and understanding. It is important for you to provide as much stability as possible. To make this happen, you’ll need to take care of, and be gentle with, yourself. Speak to people you trust, go for long walks, take a relaxing bath, have a massage, and find a good therapist.

If you would like to send me some feedback, or if you have other ideas about how to tell children about an imminent separation, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

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