How do we tell our children about separation/divorce?
Parents who are splitting up may try to protect their children from worry and upset by not talking to them about it. But children pick up a lot of what is going on around them. They need information and reassurance. When older children and young people are asked what would have helped them, the great majority say that they needed to know what was happening, who would look after them and that both parents were OK. They needed reassurance that the separation was in no way their fault and that they were not to blame.
Can you and your (ex)partner talk with them together? If so, this needs to be carefully planned to avoid disagreements in front of the children. If telling them together is too difficult or painful, it is helpful to let the other parent know what you will tell the children, when, and also what you will not tell them about, such as financial matters and disputes.
These are some suggestions for talking with your children about separation/divorce:
You and their dad/mum have decided to split up because you couldn’t live happily together any more (or give another reason that doesn’t involve blaming the other parent). Don’t say you are splitting up because you no longer love each other, because young children can then be afraid you might stop loving them too.
It’s not their fault. They are in no way to blame.
You feel sad about it (rather than angry) and you know they will feel sad too. They need to tell you what would help when they feel sad – like a special hug?
You love them as much as ever and you/and their dad/mum will always love them and look after them. Say this often.
They will go on living in their home and go to the same school. Or, if you have to move, you will work things out as well as possible for them.
You and their mum/dad are talking and working out arrangements so that they will spend part of their time with each of you. If you are taking part in mediation, tell them that you are working out arrangements with the help of a mediator. Even young children understand what mediation is and are glad to hear about it. If they are old enough, they can talk to the mediator too, if they want to – it helps them to know they can be listened to and that their feelings matter.
If they have wishes or suggestions or if something is worrying them, they need to tell you so you can see if something can be done about it. Would they like to talk to someone – a grandparent, or a counsellor at school?
Parents can divorce each other, but they can’t divorce their children. Parents are forever.
Lisa Parkinson, January 2022