Regrets? Yes, I have had a few. When my marriage ended I regretted how the discussion was handled with our two pre-teen daughters:
First, we told them at different times, because one was away when the decision to separate was made. I regret that we did not tell them together so they had each other for support. It would have been easier for them to handle it together as sisters. My youngest knew over a week before her sister due to circumstance. It would have been far better for them to learn the news together.
Second, I was not there when my youngest daughter learned we were separating. I was myself reeling and numb. I felt if my ex wanted to end the marriage it was his responsibility to tell her. This was stupid and short-sighted thinking. I immediately regretted my decision as she cried herself to sleep and I had no idea what she had been told, what she was thinking or how to help her cope. What was ‘said’ became more evident over time as I answered questions and concerns she had. First-hand knowledge of the discussion would have made me a more useful parent to support her.
How you tell your children about your marriage breakdown can make a big difference to your future family dynamics! It doesn’t matter if your kids are young, or are adults with kids of their own. Please plan how you will introduce your separation to your family! Children can be resilient, and will get through almost anything, but preparation and planning will go a long way to ease the transition.
1. Planning, or at least thinking it through ahead of time, lays out a good foundation for how your entire separation will go for the children.
Why are you breaking up?
You and your ex should be able to explain why you are separating, so agree ahead of time on how to best do this. Keep adult problems and blame out of it. You can simply say you are not getting along and want to live apart.
Who should be there?
Ideally both parents presenting a united front is the best scenario. All the kids together is the best way for them to hear the same story at the same time and be there to support each other. Is there someone important to your kids that may be helpful to include to support the kids? Let them know what is happening ahead of time so they are aware and can offer help if and when your children reach out.
How will you script it?
Choose what you need to say carefully. Keep it simple and respectful of all the parties involved. Children are good at asking questions that they want answered. They will ask what they want to know, so don’t overwhelm them with all the details all at once. Be honest and answer what you can.
Be prepared to answer basic questions like:
- Where will they live?
- Who will they live with?
- Will they need to move and change schools?
Where should you do it?
Be somewhere that the children can get emotional without feeling embarrassed. Being in a place where they can find comfort and support, like time alone in their own bedroom, is ideal.
When should you do it?
Once it is a fact that you are separating, you need to let the children know within a reasonable time line. Pick when will work with as little drama as possible. Try not to do it on a special occasion, like a birthday, or throw the news out during an argument. Do not delay too long as no time will be perfect. Planning the conversation details really will be helpful.
2. What your kids should be told:
They are not responsible for the problems that ended your marriage.
Kids often take on responsibility for their parent’s separation, blaming themselves. They may feel that if they had just been better behaved, or (fill in the blank), things would have worked out. Be emphatic that your relationship ending is not their fault.
Their mom and dad will still be their mom and dad.
Divorce does change a lot of things but it does not change who your true parents are.
Their mom and dad will always love them.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe in the midst of the process, but keep repeating that both you and your ex-spouse love them and that separation does not change that.
Things will be okay eventually.
A separation is difficult but you will manage. You don’t need to be perfect. Mistakes make us human! Children cope much better when you, as a healthy adult, set an example and demonstrate that you are coping well. It is not easy so ask for help especially if you feel you are not managing well! Seek professional help if needed.
3. Be available to answer ongoing questions and concerns.
It will take a while for the new reality to sink in. Ask in a day or two if the children have any new concerns. Sometimes children start to worry about silly things that we can help them with.
Telling the children on your own:
If you and your partner are not agreeing on how to do this because of high conflict, or lack of agreement, and you really need to tell the children on your own, remember these points too:
- Know that divorce and separation do not damage kids; the research shows that conflict does the damage. Kids are always better off with in a separated family then in a high conflict family.
- Never talk badly of their other parent. Children know they are half mom and half dad so when you speak badly about one side or the other of their family you make them feel badly about themselves. If you are both doing this, it makes them feel 100% bad. Do not discuss their other parent within earshot, as they will, at some point, overhear you. Be thoughtful and keep them out of the battle instead of trying to make them pick sides.
Yes, telling your children you are separating is difficult, but a little planning can make a big difference now and into the future. A separation is never an easy event to navigate.
Your kids are worth it! They will always be your kids, and will be there throughout your life, if you treat them well and teach them using your own thoughtful behavior as an example. Set the goal of an intentional healthy separation and remember that goal when things get tough!
If you are having trouble managing your separation and are worried about how it will affect your children, please contact me.
I do offer a complementary strategy session. Let’s talk so I can review my services and how you can benefit from coaching.
See also my related blogs, about children of divorce, you may be interested in:
- Separation and Divorce Intentions and Goals: The What, How and Why Guide
- How to Create or Keep a ‘Healthy Divorced Family’ Despite Separation
The Divorce Coach in Dundas
Copyright © 2016 Pam Mirehouse
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