Probably one of the most difficult aspects when contemplating marital breakdown what, and how, to tell any children of the marriage that their parents are getting divorced.
Children and divorce
Divorce is not simply a split between a husband and wife but where there are children involved it is an affair for the whole family. A couple may have already decided that they do not want to be together anymore but children still need to know that they are part of a family unit.
Children need to be reassured from the outset that Mum and Dad are both going to continue to love them wholeheartedly and to bring them up and take active roles in their lives notwithstanding which parent they live with most of the time.
Be honest about the divorce
Even very young ones will pick up on problems between their parents although they may not be able to articulate what is wrong. Don’t attempt to keep information from them that will affect their lives for many years to come. This will only cause resentment later on.
Think very carefully before you start to tell them that their parents are getting divorced and allow them to ask questions as and when they need to. Answer them as fully as you can consummate with their level of understanding. Explain to them that they have not caused the marital breakdown, and that any problems in the parental relationship are between you and your spouse.
Reinforce what will happen
Be very clear that the relationship is over and that there will be no reconciliation. Children can feel that they are somehow to blame for the marital breakdown and harbour feelings of guilt at the split . They may also believe that they have the power to effect a rapprochement between their parents and stop them from getting divorced.
Making things clear about the divorce at this stage will help prevent unnecessary heartache and upset. You may find that you have to repeat things several times before they are clear in their minds about what is happening and make it easier for them to accept, and come to terms with, a changed situation.
Harmony in the face of divorce
Do try to avoid blaming your soon to be ex husband or wife for the marriage breakdown in front of the children. Such comments, even if inadvertently made, may force children to feel they have to take sides and will prolong the bitterness.
A harmonious front – even if that is not the reality of the situation - will be the best thing for all concerned if the interests of the children are to be kept at the forefront during and after divorce.
Telling them exactly when and what time they will spend with each of their parents after the divorce will make them feel more secure in a changing situation.
Confirm what will happen after the divorce
Be very clear with your children at every stage of your divorce what is going to happen next. Make sure they know about all the things that are going to affect them. Talk to them about the things that will change and the things that will stay the same once their parents are divorced. They may not be happy about things but they need to be convinced that you are trying to make the transition from the life that they have been used to, to their new life after divorce, as straightforward as you can.
Its not your fault offers practical information for children, young people and parents experiencing divorce.
Childline operates a twenty four hour free phone line for distressed children in any circumstances.
The charity Family Lives works for, and with, parents to help them understand their children and the problems that come with having a family. They offer help and support through a range of services designed by parents for parents.
Another great place for expert advice and practical support is the long established charity Gingerbread.
Families Need Fathers is a registered charity that provides support to single parents of either gender. Its chief aim is to help children maintain relationships with both parents.