How do you tell your children you’re divorcing or separating?
It’s very natural to worry about telling your children you’re divorcing or separating; as parents you want to protect them.
You may have lots of questions running through your head and with everything that’s going on for you it can be difficult to think through this important step.
You may worry how they’re going to take the news. Will they blame you? Will they be able to cope with the changes that being a separated family inevitably brings? Are you going to be able to cope with their reactions?
Things to think about:
- How much stability do your children need at their age and with their personalities?
- Who will have most time for parenting?
- How will they get to and from school, friends, houses?
- If you have more than one child would they benefit from quality time alone with one parent?
- Agreeing rules in both houses can be a good idea:
- Bedtime, especially for older children.
- How long they can stay out with friends, how many nights a week they can go out
- Whether homework will be checked
- Agreeing times on computers and phones in each household will prevent your children playing you off against one another and it seeming more fun in one household than another
- Routines, meals, bedtimes, discipline for younger children will create greater security for them if it’s the same in both households.
Think about what you are going to say:
Use clear words that your children can understand. Phrases like “spending time apart” can be misunderstood and children may hang on to you getting back together.
Keep explaining to them that this is between the adults and it is not their fault.
Bear in mind that children don’t want to hear the reasons behind why you’re separating, who’s to blame or the details around your separation. They love you both.
Should you speak to the children together?
It can help you formulate what you’re going to say: you can agree on the words you’re going to use and how you might answer questions your children might ask.
Hearing you both say the same thing is re-affirming and shows you’re there to support and guide them.
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Tell them repeatedly you both still love them and you will always be their family. Let them know you want to keep a loving and close relationship for them with both of you and they will never be asked to choose between you.
Make it clear you are the adults and the decision makers but knowing their thoughts will help you make decisions for them. Discussing options with older children is generally a good idea. Avoid asking them where they would like to live, it can feel like you’re asking them to choose.
Listen to any suggestions your children make – even if you don’t think they’ll fly – let them see you are listening to them and giving thought to their suggestions.
When is the best time to tell your children you are separating?
Whenever you tell your children they will need time and space to process the news. Don’t expect each of your children to respond in the same way.
They may greet the news silently and want to go to their room or to a quiet place or to friends because they want time away to think about what’s been said.
The news can be shocking for them and they may feel anxious, angry, sad they may feel it’s their fault. Some may have questions straight away about how the separation will affect them: where they will live, schools and friends.
Knowing that children can have many and varied reactions may help you decide when would be the best time for them to hear you are separating.
Take it slowly you don’t have to have all the answers.
Some children will come to you with questions when they’ve had time to process the news. Be clear and open with them and available to answer questions which may have taken them time to formulate.
It’s ok not to know all the answers you can explain you will say more when you have a clearer idea of future plans.
Making decisions in your children’s best interests can feel very hard especially if it means your child spends more time with the other parent. This doesn’t mean you’re less of a parent or have less say. You both have a say in your children’s growing up.
Each Horizon mediator is trained to know what’s important for children when parents separate, and we can help you develop a plan to achieve the best outcome for all of you.
You may find links on our website helpful: child inclusive mediation: child arrangements mediation: benefits of child inclusive mediation.