Separation is an incredibly tough thing for all parties involved, including children. They will probably not understand why it is happening and it’s not unusual for them to blame themselves.
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Separation from your Children
It is important for you as the parent to bring it up to them in a safe environment before they hear it from someone else. It is also essential to do it correctly because children will remember this conversation, including when it happened, what you said, and where they were when you said it for the rest of their lives. So how can you do it the right way? This post will give you 5 tips on navigating this situation.
Plan with your partner and agree on what to say
The key to protecting your kids from getting hurt is by planning with your partner and agreeing on the when, how, and what to tell the kids. Do it on a day that has a lot of family time, such as a weekend. Don’t do it on a special day like a holiday or birthday as this will change how they view that day forever.
Additionally, pick your moment carefully. Do not tell them right before school because it will affect their studies, nor right before bedtime because they won’t be able to sleep well.
If you find it difficult to come to an agreement with your spouse, consider using a mediator or counsellor to help you iron out the details first. Do everything you can to stop yourselves from blurting out the news in a heated moment or when you are emotional.
When it comes to what to tell the kids, it is essential to develop a narrative that does not blame any party. Telling your children that, “Dad had an affair” or “Mom is leaving us to be with her lover” may feel good at that moment, but it is not healthy for your children at all. It puts them in the middle and starts a loyalty conflict.
The most important thing is to provide your children with the support and reassurance that they need. Explain the situation in a way that your kids will understand that you have both come to the decision, “We want our arguing to stop” or “We are not happy together.”
Talk to your children together
Breaking the news to your children with your partner may be hard, but it lets your kids know that you are committed to working together for them. This also ensures that your kids find out at the same time directly from you and your partner, not from a sibling who heard it first or from an outsider.
If your kids are of different ages, share the news with all of them at the same time first. Then follow up with the older kids later on.
If it is difficult for you to break the news with your partner, for example, if you are concerned about your safety or conflict, consider seeking external help to develop the best plan of action.
Explain why this is happening
It is not important to provide the exact details about why you are separating. However, your kids will still want to know why it is happening. This can get rather complicated, especially if you have older kids.
Be prepared to give an explanation that does not go into inappropriate details and does not blame any party either. For example, you can say, “We both want different things in our lives,” or “We like each other and think it would be great to be friends, but we just don’t love each other anymore,” or “We hoped this would never happen but we just can’t seem to fix our relationship.”
You are having grown-up problems that your kids are too young to understand, no matter how smart they may be. Do not burden them with knowledge of matters they cannot process yet.
Explain what will change and find comfort in routines for kids to feel safe
One of the first questions that will be running through your children’s minds is how this separation is going to affect their lives. Where are they going to live? With whom will they live? How will their lives change?
You can help your children prepare for these changes by being honest about the changes you know will happen. You should also be honest if there is anything you do not know yet.
If you and your partner have already decided how you will share time with your kids, present this to the children. Show them the schedule and reassure them about things that will stay the same, such as their school, friends, or favourite activities. You should also let them know that the one thing that will never change is how much you love them.
If one parent will be leaving home, tell your children about this. Let them know when they will be seeing him or her, as well as when the parent will be leaving. Reassure your children that they will be able to maintain a good relationship with both parents even when you are not all under the same roof.
You should also lean into the things that will be staying the same. Daily routines like getting ready in the morning, doing chores, and tucking them into bed at night should stay the same as much as possible. You can also tweak your own daily routines to create more time to spend with your children. For example, if you do some daily general cleaning around the house, you can turn it into a fun bonding experience with your children!
Anticipate your kids’ reactions
The news that you and your partner are separating is bound to change your children’s lives. Try to be understanding if there is no reaction, if they get angry, or if they burst into tears. Your children do not know how to express such intense emotions because they have never been in this position. It is perfectly normal for them to feel overwhelmed and shut down, just as it is for them to open up about their feelings about it. It can go either way.
Be calm when you break the news to them as this will help them be less anxious. It will also make it easier for them to believe that everything will be OK. That said, it is also OK for the children to see you upset, because it allows them to open up and express their feelings, too. You just have to control your emotions enough to be there for them when they need you.
Your kids may not talk to you right away. Or they may instantly start asking many questions. Be as honest and as clear as you can if they have questions. If you do not know the answer to any questions that they have, let them know that you’ll have an answer for them once you figure it out.
You are going to have this conversation many times. Let your children know that they can always come to you when they have questions about the situation. Keep them active, and don’t pressure them. Also, keep them out of any legal or financial stuff especially if you are heading toward divorce.
Telling your children about your separation is a conversation many parents dread. You may be afraid of how your children may take it, or perhaps you are scared that letting them know will make the separation real for you.
Separating from your partner is a life-changing event for both you and your kids. While it is true that explaining separation to children will never be easy, you must do it in a gentle, loving way full of reassurance to help your little ones feel supported.
Because it is such a big change, it is going to take some time for your kids to adjust to your separation. However, as long as you are emotionally present and you fill their lives with love and reassurance, they will eventually heal and adapt.