Beliefnet
Doing Life Together

marital separation2My husband and I are separating and we have two grade-school age children, grades one and three. How do we tell them what is going to happen? Both of us agree we should probably do it together but don’t know what to say.

I am sorry to hear that you are separating and hope you will go to counseling and still try to work things out. There is always hope for even the most difficult marriages when two people are willing to repent, forgive, resolve their issues and move forward.

Breaking bad news to children is never easy and is sad for adults who feel they have to split their families. Children need the influence of both their mothers and fathers in their lives. So you are right to make the announcement together.

A few guidelines are important no matter the age of the children:

1) Don’t use this opportunity to blame and stay civil. Present this as a mutual decision.

2) Don’t give too many details but don’t lie. Kids ask questions but you can answer in general terms.

3) Focus on facts and reinforce that this is not their fault. While it is tough for kids not to take the blame, keep reminding them it is not their fault.

4) Reassure them you will not stop loving them and they will see both parents. Make sure this happens!

5) Discuss immediate plans for the future, especially upcoming changes.

Now, in terms of their ages, here is what is important for early grade schoolers. They can understand some issues of relationships because of their relationships with friends, but they won’t understand why you can’t work it out. With friends,  you tell them to work it out when they fight! So this will be confusing. They are losing having both of you in the home and that will either frighten them, make them mad, or both. Encourage them to talk, and listen to their specific concerns. Focus on what will NOT change as well as the changes. Use the word “separate” because that is reality and ask if they would like you to talk to their teachers as well. In terms of the timing of telling them, you will need to give them enough time to plan for the changes, but not too much to agonize over what is coming. So choose the timing wisely. And during this time, get help and try to work things out. I advise working with a counselor to help the children with their adjustment issues. Unfortunately, it is bid loss and disruption to their lives.

 

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