Your children will probably remember the moment you tell them that you’re separating for the rest of their lives. It’s therefore something that needs careful thought and preparation; you don’t want them to find out from someone else, or worse, in the heat of an argument, e.g., ‘Your father doesn’t want us anymore.’ Your children will try very hard to find out why. It’s unlikely, particularly if they’re very young, that they’ll have had any idea that this is going to happen, even if you’ve been arguing a lot or more one of you has been violent towards the other. So be prepared for their shock.
Some of these may sound obvious but they’re all based on real-life accounts. If you have more than one child make sure they all find out from you and not from each other or from listening at doors. This will give them a distorted idea of what’s going to happen, and because you’ve not discussed it openly they’re likely to feel less able to tell you their worries and concerns.
I find it alarmingly common for one or both parents to tell their children that they’ve always been unhappy in the marriage. If you tell your children that, it makes them question their whole childhood up to that point and their part in your unhappiness. You’re effectively telling them that all those times that they felt they were in a happy family was all lies. Children find that very difficult to deal with and they’ll be very suspicious of happiness in the future. They might also feel guilty if they think you only stayed together for their sake. Children want to look back and think that they were part of a happy family. Don’t take that away from them.
This article has been edited and excerpted from the book It’s No Big Deal Really, with permission by Anne Cantelo, copyright © 2007. It’s No Big Deal Really is a parent’s guide to making divorce easy for children, and is recommended by the NSPCC.
For more articles on children and divorce, visit www.divorcemag.com/articles/Children_and_Divorce.