Question: My husband and I are separating. What's the best way to tell the children?
Don: Here are some key points to consider as you take this important step.
Preparation: It is best to prepare for this conversation with your spouse with a counselor. You need to sit down with your spouse and jointly come up with answers to the most likely asked question by your children. This may be tense, but it is best done before being in front of the children.
1. Why is your marriage ending? Or why are you separating and does this mean your marriage is ending?
2. When will the first visit to the parent moving out be?
3. How will future decisions about the kids be made?
4. Will the children have a room of their own in the new place?
5. Will the children have to move from their current house and school?
~ When to tell them: Make sure that they are told at least a few days before one spouse moves out. It is better to tell them sooner than later so they do not overhear it in the house or from those outside the home.
1. Plan a block of time after telling them to answer more questions or provide comfort.
2. Don’t break the news on a holiday, such as Christmas, birthdays, or anniversaries of family events. This is a day that will be remembered for a long time. Choose well.
~ Where to tell them: The best place is at home in a family space. It gives them a chance to openly express themselves where they are most familiar. They also have the option of being alone in their bedroom if they desire. Know that the place you choose will carry the memory of this conversation.
~ Who should be there: Ideally you and your spouse and ALL the children, if possible. Presenting a united front at this tough time will show that the marriage may end but your joint care and concern for them won’t. Everyone will be emotional. This is normal.
~ Let honesty be your guide. Simple honesty. Resist the urge to be critical, blame and bad mouth the other or yourself. Your children will remember EVERYTHING YOU SAY about the other spouse, and they will hold you accountable for that later. Therefore, DO NOT argue and get over the need to emotionally hurt your spouse in front of the children or after the separation. Many children say they never understood why their parents divorced. Save them this worry by being honest about your reasons. It could save the children from begging for reconciliation if they understand the circumstances for the split.
~ Reassure your children that this divorce is about the relationship between the parents and not the children. They are not to blame. Being honest about your split will reduce the guilt of the child. Many children think that there was something they could have done to keep the parents happy together. Having a parent move out can feel like the ultimate punishment for something, so remind them that you both still love them and will continue to care for them.
~ Talk about expectation around the move of the parent leaving. Tell them the day it will happen and when they will see the new place and when they can stay overnight. Let them know how often they will visit, whether they will have their own room right away, if they can bring their pets, and if their school will change.
~ Try to create positive, but honest attitude about their new rooms and having two homes but don’t oversell it. Just keep it positive and real. If there is shouting and discord, you can also tell them that this will stop and that parents will have more time to focus on the kids as a result.item4a1a1
~ Know that this is the beginning of the grief process for each family member, whether it is a separation or a divorce. The family is changing and each person will react differently to the changes.
Final Note: Practice presenting the decision to your children and practice answering these questions with a friend. You can do this also with your ex but if that is too tense, practice with a friend first then with your spouse. The more you can become familiar through role-play, the more familiar you will be with the emotion that will come when you tell the kids. This is to reduce your shock and help you be there more for the kids.~
However, in some cases there is little to no emotion left in the relationship of the parents. Be sure to practice what you are going to say anyway, sometimes, when you look into the faces of your children when they hear the news, your emotion will come. Your emotions aren't bad, it is just more comforting to the kids if you have adjusted some emotionally to the split so you are not more upset than they are.
And lastly, keep it brief and to the point. Don't try to talk on and on to stop their reactions. Work with whatever they bring up. Be kind to yourself. Later, debrief with a friend.
It is hard on everyone. No one planned for this. It is not easy, but necessary. It is possible to get through these times and keep the kids foremost in mind as the adults work out their adult things. Take it all, one step and then the next..