All families are different but there are some things in common for mums and dads going through a separation. Being concerned about your children is one of them, and that includes your adult children.  Once you have made the decision to separate and are planning to tell the children, it is really important that you get this right.

If it isn’t handled well, your children will worry about the future and what your separation means for them. They might blame themselves, and they could find themselves caught in between you and your spouse and feeling like they need to choose sides or become the mediator or the peacekeeper. None of this is ideal – you want them to understand what’s happening and how it will affect them so they can start processing without anything getting in the way.

The ideal approach is for both you and your spouse to sit down with your children and tell them together. Rehearse what you will say to ensure you are delivering the same message. To achieve this, you’ll need to plan the conversation thoroughly – who will start, who will say what, and how you will manage if one or all the children are upset.

It’s important to consider your children’s ages and stages of development when it comes to how much information you share – children of different ages need different information to feel safe. Little children need to hear about things like where they will be sleeping, where their toys will live and when they will be seeing the other parent. Older children want to know if they have to change schools, if they can still see their friends and continue their sport and other activities. And while teens may act cool or uninterested, underneath they are likely to be anxious, very angry and looking for security and leadership from you. Adult children will also be affected, even if not in such a day-to-day way as younger children.

If you have family business interests or your children work with you, they will wonder about the risks of upsetting that structure, and what it means for their income and financial future. Given that their needs at different ages are so varied, consider telling children separately if there are large age differences. It is also worth telling them separately if you feel they will find it easier to express their emotions on their own.

Some points to cover in the conversation include:

  • Tell them your separation is not their fault
  • Reassure them that both of you still love them
  • Let them know that they will continue to see both of you
  • Focus on the things that will stay the same, not the things that will change
  • Let them know that you will listen to what they have to say but that you will make the decisions

You want to avoid putting your children in the middle, so don’t bad-mouth your spouse (in this conversation or at any time during and after the separation), share with the children what has led to the end of your marriage, or use your children as confidants. Also protect them from negative comments from family and friends who might want to take your or your spouse’s side in the divorce.

For your children, there should be no sides – they have a right to a relationship with both of their parents, whether or not the two of you are in a relationship.

When should you have this conversation? Ideally, you should tell your children after you and your spouse have already made some arrangements – this gives you some concrete information to share with them. However, you don’t want it to be too late in the process, as then they might worry that everything’s already decided, and their world will turn upside down.

You want to choose a time when your children can reflect, and process and you can answer questions without being rushed. This means you don’t want to tell them before school or any other activities, or late at night before bedtime. At the start of a weekend

often works, or during a holiday, when there might be a plan for them to split their time between their parents. Then, check in with them over the next few days to see if they have any questions.

The best place to have the conversation is at home, where they are free to go to their room if they wish. There could be a family event planned for after – a movie, swimming, football in the park – where they can see that despite what they have just been told, the family still exists and they can still do things together.

This excerpt is from ‘Breaking Up Without Breaking Down’ – Dr Tina Sinclair, Tricia Peters and Marguerite Picard which can be purchased via Amazon –

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