Splitting up… What about the children?

Its never easy when you decide to separate there can be a lot of emotions and what about the children? Many couples choose to stay together for the sake of the children, but then what do we model to our children about relationships if we stay and are miserable? I believe we all deserve to be happy whether that is together or apart, that’s for each one of us to decide.

If you have decided to separate then it’s important to meet the needs of the children so they can adjust to life with parents living apart. This can be difficult to do but robust caring support is vital at such a difficult time for all the family.

I work with so many children and families that get caught up in the conflict or are trying to recover from a separation or divorce.

Here are some handy tips to help you navigate the difficulty of addressing separation with children, formed from questions I have been asked over my years of working with couples and families.

When do we tell them?
Don’t wait  for the for sale sign to go up to tell the children you are separating, they pick up on the unease at home even if you are not fighting. Its much better to have the facts than for them to worry unnecessarily, they often imagine much worse than the reality. Start preparing them for the changes as soon as possible with honest conversations about practicalities but also talk about the feelings. Yes we can acknowledge that its sad but there may also be anger too, be prepared for a whole raft of emotions. There maybe just silence at first if the news comes as a shock, give them space and time and let them know you are there if they want to talk.

What about small children how will they understand?
There are some great books to help small children understand the process of separation. these creative stories and pictures help little ones make sense of situations, don’t be surprised if they read them over and over again as they process the information.  Be honest but respectful when talking about your partner it’s still your child’s mum or dad even if you don’t want to be with them anymore. Offer plenty of reassurance and be prepared for questions but don’t be surprised if children are quiet and come to you later on, they may need time to process and think about things.

I feel ashamed and I don’t want anyone to know.
Its easy to feel a sense of failure when a relationship ends and shame can keep us quiet and its tempting to keep our stuff private. However it may be useful to have a quiet word with a teacher for small children, so they know what’s happening at home and can support your child. They can keep an eye on your child for any unexpected behaviour, children may become angry or they may regress. Children are resilient and they do adjust in time to new situations with plenty of love and reassurance. The right support can make all the difference to a young person that’s feeling overwhelmed with big emotions.

Is it better to keep them out of the process?
Change is difficult and scary but it can be exciting too, I would suggest you can include the children in some of the plans for the future. For example let them see pictures of the second home, if there is going to be one. Can they help choose the new furniture bed clothes for their bedroom. It’s important to keep talking so that children know what to expect and can manage the process of change, its not unusual for children to blame themselves for the separation so its important to have plenty of reassurance. Tell them that you still love them and they are not to blame and both parents will still be available to them.

Useful Book Resources For Parents

  • Understanding Children’s Needs When Parents Separate – Emilia Dowling & Di Elliot
  • Was it the chocolate pudding, a story about divorce – Sandra Levins
  • Mum Dad and the Glue – Kes Gray
  • Two Homes – Claire Masurel

Mum Dad and The Glue narrated by Lorraine Kelly on youtube:

(Please be aware these resources may evoke powerful feelings of grief and loss , make sure you have the time and space when using them and take care of yourselves)

Support is available through individual, family or play therapy, just give me a call if you have any questions.

Best wishes