Unfortunately, separation is a major part of life with over fifty per cent of relationships breaking down, and most involving children.
Whether your relationship is a marriage or a de facto relationship, separation is not something that most people plan for and when it happens, the added stress of talking to your children about separation can be daunting.
Even though we live in a world where you can Google anything at any time, having access to a colossal amount of information does not make talking to your children about a separation any easier. For most, your children are your number one priority and you will want to talk to them in a gentle way where you're able to make informed decisions about what you say and how you say it.
"I have my mother's mouth and my father's eyes;
on my face they are still together."
Warsan Shire, Poet
Whilst divorce is not a simple subject for any parent to discuss with their children, it is important to remember that children rely upon certainty and knowing that they are safe, loved and well cared for is a big part of this certainty.
If you are in a position where it is time to speak gently to your children about separation, we hope that the following suggestions will help you:
1. Separation Plan
It is ideal if both you and your spouse are on the same page before you talk to your children about your separation. If you can talk to the children together with your spouse, then you can work out together how to tell them.
It is important to include the following:
- The relationship between you and your spouse is ending, not the relationship with your children;
- Your children are still loved by both you and your spouse and that will not change.
You should also give some consideration to what questions your children may ask and prepare answers for them.
One (Toddler) to Five
Children under the age of five are self-focused and rely upon their parents for absolutely everything including food, water, shelter, love, strength and stability.
Children of this age may perceive the separation between you and your spouse to be 'their fault' and it is easy for them to make the jump from "dad left mum" to "dad left me".
Offer plenty of reassurance and reinforce that they are, and will be, loved and cared for by both of their parents.
Five to Twelve (Tween)
Between the ages of five and twelve, your children will begin to be able to process bigger emotions, but separation is still a difficult concept for them to grasp.
Children in this age group are still likely to blame themselves for the separation and it will help if you are able to talk to them about what they're thinking and come up with ideas and strategies to help them to process the separation and manage their feelings about the changes that will occur in their lives.
Thirteen Plus (Teenagers)
Teenagers have the benefit of a greater understanding of separation and divorce, but in their mind, they may also feel that they have the most to lose. Most likely, your teenagers have spent their entire life under one roof and separation will change their whole life as they know it and they most likely have a good idea of how significant that change will be.
Give your teenager a clear explanation of what it means to separate and talk openly about how their time with you and your spouse will work moving forward.
Teenagers will likely ask more in-depth questions and they should be provided with truthful answers. In saying this, they may need to be sheltered from some information if it is not age appropriate, so a degree of common sense will need to be applied.
As always, never forget to mention that their relationship with you will not change. No matter how old they are, it does not hurt to remind them that separation is an adult concept and you are separating from your spouse, not them.
2. Work Together
If you and your spouse are comfortable to talk to your children together and present a united front, then you should do this.
No matter what age your children are, they will need time to digest the information and ask questions.
Talk to your children gently and let them know what life will be like moving forward. Talk to them about what time they will spend with each of you and where they will live.
Try not to overload your children with too much information.
Focus Only On Your Children
Whist you and your spouse may have feelings of hurt toward each other, remember, your children most likely do not feel the same way about either of you. Your announcement will likely be unexpected, and your children need you to be mature and supportive of them.
Do not make your children feel like they need to take sides by involving them in your hurt or negative emotions.
No Blame, No Game
Do not blame your spouse for your separation.
Remember, it is not about you and it is expected that your children love both you and your spouse. Your separation is not a competition and your spouse probably loves the children just as much as you do.
Destructive games and the appalling growing trend of destruction and denigration in family law matters is unnecessary and detrimental to achieving your desired result. Games do nothing but hurt you and your children and prevent you from ever having a workable relationship with your spouse.
The smallest decisions and actions, consistently made, have far-reaching and significant consequences. Demonstrate what is possible to your children by being an example.
Reinforce The Constants
Remind your children of the things that will not change for them. For instance:
- Both you and your spouse love them just the same;
- Both you and your spouse will spend time with them.
Think of other things that are constants for them, for instance: school, friends, relatives, family events, sport and extra-curricular activities etc. Your children thrive on structure and they need to know that not everything in their lives is going to change and that everything will be ok.
Making Informed Decisions
As this situation is normally the first time for all involved, it certainly helps to get some advice from a professional. A family lawyer can consider your circumstances and outline a likely path for you moving forward so you can make informed decisions about what you want to do and ensure certainty for your children. The sooner you obtain professional legal advice, the better equipped you will be to make this life transition for you and your children.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.