Telling your children that their parents intend to separate will be one of the hardest and most difficult conversations you may ever have!
Your children love you both and wish to be able to share this love and your support in everything that they do. Their strongest held wish will be that the two people they love more than anyone else in the world will stay together with them for ever.
Research shows that children will remember this conversation, and it could well have a life long impact on them. It is very important how you go about this, to manage as well as possible the likely profound and negative psychological impact this will have on them.
It is important that you think very carefully about how to have this conversation, what to say, and when this should be done. You must keep emotions calm, plan carefully, and communicate well with each other. This will enable you to go about this conversation in a way that will be more helpful for your children.
There are many ways that you can go about obtaining guidance for this important task.
- You could consult with your GP who may be able to provide you with a mental health plan that will subsidise sessions with a clinical psychologist. There are experts who specialize in advising as to the impact of separation on children and the best way to go about managing this.
- You could approach a community organization such as Relationships Australia, Catholic Care, Lifeworks, or Family Life-these groups have a variety of resources, education sessions and professionals who can assist in the provision of information and even coaching as to how you might go about telling the children of your plans.
- You could speak with your family lawyer. They regularly advise clients about all aspects of separation including how to tell the children about the changes that are likely to take place. Many of them have very strong connections with other professionals and work collaboratively with them to provide holistic support for the family at separation. They will have many ideas for support and guidance that you have not thought of!
- You can speak with other family members and friends who have had similar experiences and may have forged good relationships that they can refer you to, or give you the benefit of their own personal experience.
- If you are struggling to arrive at an action plan that you can both agree upon regarding communicating important changes to the children, you should consider attending Family Dispute Resolution to develop a mutually agreed approach. This should be done before you tell the children about this.
I am attaching some links to organisations that I and my clients have found particularly helpful:
It is important to get help before you speak with the children to make sure that this allows the children to cope with their sense of loss and change, so that they can cope in the best way they can.
Parents and psychologists who I have worked with over the years, have mentioned some tips that they tell me provide a good framework while they were getting good help and support from organizations or professionals. These include:
- That your children are very likely to cope with the separation as well as you do. If you are not managing, then seek help as soon as possible, as this will also assist them.
- All children of any age experience grief and loss, even if appearances may indicate otherwise.
- Children of different ages and stages of development have different ways of dealing with grief and loss, and this must be taken into account when speaking to them about such sensitive and difficult matters.
- The temperament of your children will also have a big impact on the way they respond to and deal with such significant changes in their world.
- Choose a good time for this conversation when you and your partner are as composed and calm as possible, and it is a time when the children will not be distracted or concerned about other things. Make sure that the two of you present a united and reassuring front.
- Tell the children what is happening before it actually takes place so that the anticipated changes have time to sink in.
- Plan together what you are going to say beforehand, have this conversation together and with all the children at the same time.
- Acknowledge what the changes are likely to be, that they will be hard for everyone, that a lot of thought has gone into making these decisions, and that it will take some time for all family members to get used to them.
- Most importantly be very clear that you both love the children, that this has nothing to do with them, they are are not to blame for the separation. Give an explanation that you children will be able to accept at their age and stage of development, for example that this is because you two can no longer live together. Stress that you will both continue to be there for them.
- Be simple and straightforward. Be as positive as possible, and remember to say some good things as well as talking about the bad things. Be clear how they will keep in touch with each of you.
- Keep any arguments or disagreements away from the children and ensure that they cannot be overheard by them even if you are on the phone.
- Make sure that neither of you talk in a negative way about the other in the presence of the children.
- Keep changes to a manageable level for the children. Allow them to get used to one significant change before they are confronted with another if possible.
- Listen carefully to and respect what the children say, or do not say at this time.
If you are unsure as to how to proceed please contact Creative Family Law Solutions and we can assist to point you in the right direction.