Inside: 9 tips for how to talk to your kids about splitting up when you’ve made the decision its time for a separation or a divorce.
This is a guest post.
It’s heart-rending whenever a couple who have lived together for years and have children are struggling to coexist and decide to go their separate ways.
When a marriage becomes dangerous, toxic, or emotionally exhausting and contentious, it prevents the two people from living in a civilized manner.
Separation functions as a timeout. It gives the couple a chance to sort out their inner turmoil by seeking professional help, prayer, reflection, and figuring out the changes needed to live a happier life.
Spitting up works well in sorting out serious marital issues like abuse, constant conflict, and addiction when the couple is committed to working out and correcting their relationship. Other times, it is used as the first step in beginning the divorce process.
Many parents splitting up lie, hide, omit, and blur the truth from their children as a way of protecting them from the pain.
However, being honest, open, and forthcoming about the separation, while staying age-appropriate, will enable your children to start digesting the news and start the healing.
So, how do we talk to our children about splitting up? Here are some tips.
1. Prepare for the talk
Prepare yourself by gaining control of your emotions before breaking the news to your children.
Pray about it, meditate and lean on family and friends. Remember, your kids need your emotional support.
Separation stories act more like onions with multiple layers that need to be peeled slowly to avoid damage. In the same way, speak the truth, keep it simple, avoid revealing the inner layers, or the nitty gritty that the children cannot handle.
Keep the information centered on objective facts.
2. Timing is important
Kids are remarkably keen on happenings around them, and they can sense when something is not right.
Being secretive is more damaging than giving the information, however painful it may be. Secrets cause worry, anxiety and stress.
In case the separation isn’t happening soon, delay discussing the details until the planned date grows closer. Otherwise, you might confuse them into thinking divorce or separation is no longer happening.
3. Do it together
Before telling your kids, be on the same page and have a united front.
Discuss beforehand and agree on ways to approach the topic and always apply the “we” affirmative.
Breaking the separation news to your kids together assures them of your dedication to working together for their benefit.
Avoid telling one sibling before the others.
Due to different ages, consider giving age-appropriate information but follow up with the older kids for more detailed guidance.
In case one parent is unwilling or unable to participate, keep the conversation simple, and remain objective. Avoid badmouthing the other parent.
4. be brief and straightforward
Explaining to your kids about separation isn’t fun at all, but instead of dressing up the discussion, do it concisely and straight.
For example, say “dad and mum have decided to live separately for some time and take time apart, but we still love you”.
Use an empathetic and soft tone when delivering the news. Avoid being accusatory or defensive.
Keep the details of your separation to the minimum.
Regardless of whether your kids noticed the apparent tension, avoid telling them the ugly details.
Don’t mention things like financial troubles, cheating, or abuse to avoid introducing adult problems to children, compounding their stress and anxiety.
5. Be Reassuring
Kids react in different ways. Your role is to reassure them that your parenting role is still intact even though your marriage has changed.
For example, you can say “whatever is happening between dad and mum is not your fault. We won’t live together anymore, but we will protect, take care, and love you.”
Ensure each parent individually reassures their unconditional love through actions and words.
Don’t make promises you can’t fulfill. Instead, encourage them using the present time and show affection through hugs and cuddling.
6. Address the effects of splitting up
Most kids will wonder how the separation will impact their lives; address this aspect as soon as you have the details.
Explain to your children about the departing parent, living conditions, and visiting rights according to the child custody agreement. Doing so will reassure them of maintaining a quality relationship with the departing parent even while living in separate houses.
For example, ‘mum will be staying with you, but dad has rented an apartment nearby, over the weekends you will visit him and spend time together”.
Give your kids enough time and space to establish a relaxed and comfortable space at your new home.
7. Welcome their questions
Most likely, your children will have a ton of questions they need answered. Be truthful with your responses.
Being honest enhances your child’s trust in you.
Keep the explanations age-appropriate and in case you don’t know the answer to a specific question, don’t lie, tell them you don’t know. Reassure them that once you figure it out, you will answer the question.
Keep in mind questions will unfold in different ways at different times. Address the questions immediately.
8. Give them time
After the news, give your kids time to adjust and come to terms with the new reality. It is a profound change, and while you may already see the light at the end of the tunnel, it takes time for them to get there.
In the meantime, encourage them, invite discussion, listen about their concerns, reassure and love them, and most of all, be patient.
Make an effort to become a steady presence, an encourager and prayer partner in their lives.
It’s understandable to have a breakdown but avoid burdening your kids with issues, worries, and anger, forward such to your therapist and friends.
9. Be caring, kind, and respectful
When you live apart, it’s easy to drop the initial unified front and become disrespectful to your ex-spouse.
Regardless of your marital issues, working together will benefit your children immensely.
Yes, it’s hard
Change is stressful, but with God on your side, your friends and support system, it doesn’t have to become damaging. Separate maturely, consciously and lovingly to ensure your kids have best outcomes.