As a parent, one of the questions you will dread most is “why are you divorcing?” or “why are you separating?”
While you yourself may feel a huge spectrum of emotions ranging from relief to despair at your separation or divorce, it is important for every parent to take a step back before answering that question and consider it from a child’s perspective. While you have known a life outside your relationship, your children have likely only ever known having one family unit.
So how exactly do you answer this question?
While you cannot anticipate all of the different questions and concerns the children might have, it is imperative for the benefit of the children and your co-parenting relationship with your ex moving forward, that you and your ex-partner discuss and get on the same page about how you are going to explain things to the children and respond to the children’s concerns, before you approach the subject with the children.
Below are a few tips that might be worth considering before talking to your children about your separation or divorce.
It’s us, not you
One of the key points to stress when you answer the question on why you are separating or divorcing, is to make it crystal clear that it is your decision as adults and that your decision to separate has not been caused by or related to anything that the children have said or done.
Own the responsibility of your actions – no matter how bitter the feud –at no point should you lay blame on your partner when discussing separation with your children. However angry you may be, do not convey your anger, disappointment or frustration about your ex-partner to the children as this can be highly detrimental to your child’s emotional wellbeing and ability to move forward as a separated family in the future.
Avoid the details
In addition to ensuring you do not speak negatively about your ex-partner, you should also spare your children the details, no matter what their age or level of maturity. Your children do not need to hear about allegations of infidelity, emotional failings or any other issues that led to the break down. Keep it short and simple.
Use language they understand
The age of your children will influence their understanding of the actual word ‘divorce’ or ‘separation’, and for some children, depending on their level of maturity, the word ‘divorce’ can be scary to hear. In many children’s minds – particularly among 7-12 year olds – the word divorce can entail finality in their ongoing relationship between both parents and themselves. Use words that talk about living apart, starting new lives and always reassure the children throughout your conversation that they will be provided for and will still have both of their parents in their lives.
Emotions are good
While it is good to regulate your emotions in front of the children, try to encourage your children to express their emotions. Do not suppress their natural need to unburden their inner thoughts at this period of upheaval.
Use positive language
While separation is a final stage in your relationship, try to reassure the children that there will be continuity of the family, despite the fact that there will be two households. Reinforce to the children that both you and your ex-partner will continue to love them unconditionally and provide for all of their needs (emotional, physical, financial, etc) despite the separation. Promote the idea of the continuity of the family with examples (and subsequent actions) of how you intend to achieve this, such as reassuring the children that even if they can’t physically see both parents each day, that they can talk on the phone to them, text or FaceTime them (depending on what forum is most age appropriate) if they miss them or are feeling lonely for that parent.
Open door policy
Let your children know that this is not a one-time conversation. You are all entering unknown territory and you should keep communication open at all time. Reassure your children that they can talk to you at any given time about their concerns and be as honest as you can while being respectful of your ex-partner, and mindful that no matter what lead to the breakdown of your relationship, that your ex-partner is and will always be, your children’s only other parent.
The team at Damien Greer Lawyers provide comprehensive and strategic family law advice at the highest level