Kids often know more than we think they do.
If there has been an affair, they probably know.
If there has been ongoing tension or fighting, they have probably sensed that their parents are going to get divorced – even if they don’t fully comprehend what that means.
At the very least, they have likely picked up that their parents don’t like eachother much anymore.
That being said, when talking to your children about your separation, to remember that they too are going through their own emotions about what is happening to their family.
Where Possible, Have Both Parents Present When Having the Talk
Having both parents present when sharing with your child that you are separating shows your child that no matter what is happening between the two of you, your relationship with your child is both your priority.
If there are any questions your child has about what has been happening in the lead up to the separation, or what is going to happen from here, they can then be addressed by both parents also.
If for whatever reason both parents can not be available, include another close relative – someone the child can get a cuddle from or safely express their emotions to.
This person can also be of support to the you after the discussion.
Keep it Simple and Age Appropriate
Each age group is going to require a different level of detail.
Here I will suggest a strategy for each age group.
2-5 Year old
For a child under 5, it may suffice to explain that you will be living in separate houses, when this is likely to occur and reassuring the child that you both love them.
5-10 Year Old
A child under 10 can have a little more information like “We aren’t getting along anymore and have decided to live in separate houses and be friends”.
A child of this age will also likely want to know who they will live with and when they will see their other parent– so a timetable or visiting schedule may be helpful.
10 and up
A child of approaching adolescence will have likely noticed tension or change in the dynamic at home. They will likely have their own thoughts, opinions and definitely feelings on what has happened and why.
For an adolescent, you can go into more detail – especially if they ask questions – answering honestly, but with respect to each parent. This conversation is about your child – not you – at this point.
Something like “As you have noticed, we haven’t been getting along for a while. So, we have decided to separate.” Go on to explain where each of you will live, and include any decisions you have made about visiting or sporting commitments etc.
Reassure Them it’s NOT Their Fault
No matter your child’s reaction at the time most children go through a period of time of blaming themselves. If they got good grades, cleaned their room more often, helped out with chores or didn’t tell their mum they hated her last week when she said no to a bowl of ice-cream at 9am, that their family would still be together.
Its important that we reassure our kids that this is an issue between the parents and that nothing the child did – good or bad – would change the outcome.
Be Available and Wear a ‘Gladiator Suit’!
When I was going through my own separation, if I sensed my kids were wanting to share something but were afraid, I’d promise not to speak until they had finished and put on my imaginary ‘gladiator suit’.
They knew that this meant they could talk about anything that they believe would hurt or offend me and trust that I would just listen to them and not get mad or emotional.
Sometimes what they said did hurt! But it was important for them to know that as their mother, I was there for THEM and available and capable of handling their feelings or concerns without it damaging OUR relationship.
Unity, Simplicity and Availability
If there are 3 words you can take away from this post, it would be these:
Unity – as parents, be as united as possible over how you communicate with your kids;
Simplicity – keep the conversations simple, age appropriate and respectful of your child’s relationship with each parent and
Availability – be available no matter what and no matter when for your child to express their feelings.
Good luck xx