Have a Real, Human Moment When Explaining Separation to Your Kids
Realizing your relationship is coming to an end is a surreal experience. The longer you’ve been with someone, the harder it is to imagine life without them in it everyday. But, at the same time, you know that’s how it needs to be. There’s a certain level of understanding you have with yourself—things are going to change, but it’s for the best. It’s rarely cut and dry, but at least you’re able to make sense of it.
For kids, the situation totally up-ends their lives. They’re used to seeing their parents together. They have friends who go home to both parents. They see happy families on TV or in movies. They’re confused and have no idea why the situation has changed, and they’re hurt, confused, curious and afraid because the biggest anchors in their lives are now going their separate ways. Needless to say, they need help processing it.
It’s important to treat your child with respect and have an open, honest conversation with them. They don’t need every detail of the separation, but they deserve reassurance that everything is going to be okay.
Explain the situation
People get separated for many reasons. Sometimes they choose to keep those reasons private. Other times, it’s public knowledge. Whatever the reason, you owe your child an explanation—something they can understand. Try to deliver it factually, without bias. Talk through it with them so they understand why things are the way they are. The context will help them cope.
Not every child is going to grasp the situation, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you take the time to talk about it with them. Brushing it under the rug or oversimplifying things may give them the wrong impression—that it’s not okay to talk about it. You want your child to have the opposite feeling. They should know it’s okay to express their feelings and ask questions.
Don’t be afraid to emote
Emotions are part of any separation. You might be mad, hurt, confused or even relieved. It’s okay to show these emotions, but be aware of their context for your child. The important thing isn’t what emotions you have, it’s showing your child that it’s okay to embrace them.
Being able to share emotions triggers a human moment. You and your child connect at a level that transcends understanding. Seeing your sadness might trigger theirs. Seeing their sadness may quell your anger. Showing confident relief may affirm that everything’s going to be alright for a child that’s confused. Emotion—any emotion—is an important part of the conversation. It can’t just be a quick recap of the situation that moves on like nothing’s changing.
Answer their questions
Kids have a million questions, and they’re bound to have a lot about why their parents aren’t together anymore. You and your now-ex owe it to them to answer those questions. Again, you don’t need to go into specifics or try to explain concepts out of their grasp. Instead, focus on reassuring them and giving them the information they need to process the situation.
Explain that it’s not their fault. Talk about the living and visiting arrangements. Answer the questions that seem insignificant to you, but cut deep in the mind of your child—like “who’s house will I keep my favorite toy at?” Your answers may not help them totally understand the situation, but it’ll give them bearings to cling to.
Some kids may not have questions right away, and that’s okay too. Do your best to explain things and anticipate questions they may not ask. Again, reassurance is the goal.
Everything is going to be okay
No matter why you and your partner have decided to separate, everything needs to be okay for your children. No matter how you feel about the situation, your kids are bound to feel infinitely more lost and confused. This is the only world they know and it’s changing right in front of them. The best way to reassure them that everything is going to be okay is through a real, human moment and an honest conversation.