Should we tell the kids why we are separating?

Brisbane family mediation specialist Private Mediation explains how best to navigate the challenging area of breaking the news of a separation or divorce to children, while taking into consideration their feelings and best interests.

Many children struggle to fully understand the reasons why their parents are splitting up, especially as the announcement often comes as a complete surprise to them. When your kids seek the reasons behind your separation how honest should you be?
Things to remember when breaking the news:

Getting into a discussion of the mechanics of the marriage breakdown can force children to process a whole range of adult problems that they shouldn’t have to deal with.

When children ask ‘why,’ they are really asking if there is a way their parents could stay together. It’s a natural question but it can open up lots more ‘why’ questions from kids. However since the decision has already been made, answering these types of questions honestly without laying blame on the other parent can become difficult. Answering the reasons behind the break-up may encourage the child to try and fix things, and that’s not their job.

Before making the announcement it’s important that both parents agree on what they are going to say and break the news together if possible. As difficult as it might be it’s essential that the message is delivered consistently and made directly, while keeping emotion at bay. A good place to start is something like this:

“Your father and I have decided we are not going to live together anymore. We both want different things from our relationship and have tried but have been unable to agree on right answers – that’s why we’ve both decided to split up.”

It’s important to express to children that while the split will mean some changes in the future, the divorce has nothing to do with them and the announcement doesn’t change the love that both parents have for them.

So should we explain the reasons behind the divorce?

Most family dispute resolution practitioners agree that at this stage it’s important only to give the necessary details and keep things simple.

The announcement will be enough for a child to process, without their parents mentioning they don’t make each other happy anymore which can cause anxiety in a child thinking they may be left too if they can’t make their parents happy. This makes choosing the words carefully very important. If the reasons behind the divorce are because of lack of intimacy or infidelity, obviously these are not appropriate to share with the child.

Depending on your child’s age, the reasons behind the separation, and where the child has noticed signs of fighting or arguing, you may be able to be more open as the reasons behind the divorce, but it’s still important not to start pointing fingers and placing blame. This will only make children feel caught in the middle and causes more harm than good. Keep the explanation neutral and explain it’s a mutual decision.

In the weeks following the announcement, it’s important to spare children the details. This means not talking negatively about the other parent, leaving divorce papers out of sight, and having discussions with friends about the other parent away from children.

For parents who are having difficulty making arrangements regarding shared parenting, Private Mediation can help you put in place a positive plan for the future.