Was it my fault? What to tell your children when you split up

A poignant and thought provoking BBC programme, giving an insight into modern family life, has placed the spotlight on the emotional and sensitive issue of exactly how you explain to your children that your marriage or relationship has crumbled and the big split is imminent.

In the adage that one size does not fit all – and that so much depends upon on the circumstances and factors including the age of the children – managing and supporting the situation with meticulous planning, transparency, and clear and frequent communication is vital.

In a previous post we highlighted author Helen Victoria Bishop’s illustrated book called ‘Jack’ which helps 4-11 year olds to deal with the myriad of turbulent and emotional issues they frequently experience as part of family break up.

Shift the age group another decade or so forwards where, having waited nine years to find out why his parents broke up, young adults like Darryl confront them head on and ask them if they are happier now than before the divorce. After some soul searching and tough questions for his parents, Darryl reflects the dreams of many youngsters who keep hoping for a reconciliation which will never transpire.

With one third of Britain’s children living with one parent, key messages that resonated through the heartache of the respective scenarios – which included one mum moving with her daughter into a new house without telling her that their dad wasn’t coming with them – centred on how much or how little information should parents divulge.

Jones Myers partner Kate Banerjee, who heads our Children’s Department, and is highly skilled in cases relating to children, including contact and residence disputes – says it is not unusual in such circumstances for children to blame themselves for their parent’s split.

Kate has the following tips for parents:

  • Give children information at the earliest opportunity – how much will depend upon how old they are (the degree of understanding of a three year old will vary dramatically from that of an 11 year old).
  • Always plan carefully what you will say to them in advance (even more meticulous planning is required in situations where violence, alcohol or emotional abuse are factors leading to the separation or divorce).
  • Avoid shifting more blame on one parent than the other and being acrimonious in your explanation.
  • However difficult, try to keep a brave face and be consistent in your explanations.
  • Put yourself in your children’s shoes when relaying this information and try to pre-empt any questions they will ask.
  • In the interests of always putting children’s interests first, try to present a united approach wherever possible, especially when reassuring them “it’s not your fault”.
  • Be clear and concise about the information you give them – the programme highlighted how some parents had ‘talked around’ issues and could have been more specific.
  • Encourage children to openly voice and discuss their worries or concerns – burying and internalising the situation exacerbates negative emotions.
  • Establish routines at the outset to give children some sense of stability.
  • Remind children frequently how much you love them and that you are there to support them.

In the knowledge that divorce can have long-lasting damage on children who may feel abandoned, ensure their welfare is always a top priority. It is vital that parents emphasise throughout various stages of their children’s lives that is it their choice – and no fault of their offspring – to separate. For more information on how we can help, please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.

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