Telling your children about your separation

(Extract from Dad's Place by Jill Barrett)

How to tell you children about separating is worth a lot of consideration. Children will worry and feel insecure if things that directly affect them are not acknowledged or explained. It's also worth a lot of thought because you're probably anxious about their reaction to the news. No parent finds it easy to make an announcement that will disappoint their children, especially if it's one they themselves feel emotional about. If you can do it without blame, but with confidence and compassion, as well as lots of reassurances of your continued love for them, then you'll be doing this awkward but important task well. You should give them some indicators of how the future will work out (at least in the short term). If you've had a period together when the fact of your impending separation was acknowledged between you, it will be easier than if the decision is very new.

Briefing the children:

Exactly the right approach will depend on the ages of your children, of course, as well as how you're getting on with their other parent, and the particular circumstances leading up to the separation.

Here are some guiding principles:

  • Prepare yourself first. Ask what you want them to know, then check that it's appropriate for them to know it, given their ages and emotional maturity. They will not need to know too many details. Remember that the truth as you see it may put their other parent in a bad light, which will put them in an awkward position. Children don't want to hear too many adult details.
  • Try to talk to their other parent about timing and content (see below) and agree on who's going to start the talking, roughly what you're going to say, and whether you can do it together. If you'd rather do it separately because of emotions, that's OK, but remember that doing it together affirms for the children, right from the start of your new kind of family, that matters directly concerning them are your joint responsibility. It gives a reassuring show of solidarity and this is a good start. Remember, some displays of emotion are OK and will be totally appropriate for a sad announcement.
  • Then you'll just have to do the best you can to give some kind of explanation that reassures the children and isn't critical of the other parent.
  • Try to have a rough idea already worked out of how, when and where they're going to see the parent who won't be living with the children, so they can start to envisage what it's going to be like.
  • Practice getting it right. Rehearsing lines in your head improves performances. It isn't necessary for them to have many details - too much can be confusing -but obviously they need some kind of reason. If either of you don't want to hide this, you'd better mention it. It's easier all round, however, if potential rivals for parental affection are kept on the periphery while you sort out your family responsibilities.
  • If you can't plan your briefing, it it's already been done, or you're avoiding it, prepare yourself to say something soon. The children will be comforted by hearing from you and will be more awkward with you if you've said nothing. They may make up something that's way out, or feel they aren't supposed to mention it.

Here are some lines to practice:

  • Mum/Dad and I can't find a way to be happy together; we've tried to solve our differences, but very sadly we've had to decide we can't live together anymore.
  • It's going to be difficult for you to understand and in many ways I'm not sure I entirely understand it, so maybe don't expect it to make sense …
  • Sometimes we'll all be sad and angry that this had to happen, but Mum/Dad and I have thought about it long and hard and this is the best solution …
  • We still want to be very much a family but it'll be a different kind of family from now on.
  • You'll see lots of both of us, but separately …
  • Mum/Dad and I may disagree on lots of things, but there'll always be one thing we share with lots of love and care, and that's you.
  • Nothing you could have done could have prevented our decision so it certainly isn't your fault.
  • We'll all be a bit unsettled for a while as we get used to things, but let's get on with it the best we can …
  • Good things may come out of this, like being able to spend more time together once we reorganize ourselves.
  • Yes, you may think I've been hurtful or uncaring at times, said and done things I'm not proud of as we've tried to work things out and I'm sorry for my part in upsetting you and Mum/Dad
  • And yes it's true, I don't want this to happen, but I accept that if both of us can't be happy, one of us wanting to stay together isn't going to work, however much I might want it to …
  • You're bound to have noticed a bit of tension lately and now it's time for me/us to let you know that Mum/Dad and I are separating because it'll be for the best …
  • Yes it's true that Mum/Dad doesn't want us to separate, so he/she's pretty upset and I most likely seem to blame for upsetting her/him and leaving you - this makes it pretty hard for all of us but we'll get through it, so if you can, try to think of it as our problem, not yours, because neither of us want you to worry about it too much …
  • Maybe what I'm saying mightn't seem to be what you've heard from Mum/Dad, but we often see things differently and it's not that one of us is right and the other wrong.


These are ideas as expressed by author, Jill Barrett

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