The Safest Ways To Have One of The Hardest Conversations of Your Kids’ lives
I have heard this question more times than I remember. Many parents are aware of the impact that this conversation, and the moments (and years) which follow, will have on their kids. In fact, many parents who I speak with can remember their own parents having these exact conversations with them, and the confusion and potentially trauma which ensued. Naturally, many of today’s parents want to avoid the worst case scenario for their own kids and mitigate any negative outcomes for their children.I have created resources specifically designed to support parents in having such conversations, although the truth is even the best resources are not the complete answer to this quandary. Your kids thrive when you thrive and hurt when you hurt. When your energy is strong and contained, they are allowed to be how they truly need to be; hurt, angry, scared – messy. This is because when they sense you are strong, they feel safer to express their internal selves which, in situations like this, is horribly insecure and scared.
We will talk specifics of how to have these conversations, but before we do I want to explain that relying on contrived conversation has a high chance of backfiring. Kids hearing their parents are separating, feel incredible shock and insecurity which leads into anxiety. They trusted this partnership between their parents to last the test of time, and had no idea there was any other way for this family to be. Now they are being told the very fabric of their lives is going to change and look completely different – they are completely unsure of how it will look and what will happen. They need to see that you are feeling strong and confident and that you will be able to take care of them no matter what happens.
What to say
- Your father/mother and I have decided that we cannot work out our adult issues together any more. We have decided to live separately and not be together any more, but we will both always love you and always be with you. We will still be a family, but it will be a two house family. This split up was no-ones fault and no one is to blame. Sometimes adults just cannot work out how to be together and be friends and we decided that because we love you so much that it was better for you if we were living apart so that we could treat you as best as possible – that’s our job as your parents.
Something like the above will need to be appropriated for younger kids. You may use drawing of two houses to illustrate what you are talking about and you will definitely need to repeat the conversation multiple times. With younger kids (under 10) you may also use separation stories. They will have questions for you and sometimes at times which do not suit you. But this is the reality of separating.
Avoiding Ongoing Separation Issues
There are many factors which help kids to adjust to familial separation.
1) Kids need an open space where they feel truly free to express all of their feelings. Sometimes this means that kids need permission to be angry at their parents, along with hurt, confused and sometimes relieved. If you are unsure about how to provide this sort of open space, consult a family therapist about the best ways to achieve this.
2) Normalise, don’t minimalise – kids benefit from knowing that they are not alone in familial separation and that there are many kids just like them who may have similar feelings. There is a fine balance that you need to tread here in order to avoid making kids feel like you don’t think their feelings are important or big.
3) Highlight the changes and losses – familial separation forces kids into many more changes than just the way their family looks. . They often change living arrangements, new homes to get used to, new localities, new people introduced into their lives, the loss of old friends, loss of pets, along with the loss of their understanding of their family unit.
One thing to remember is that kids CAN adjust to their parents separating, but will probably never truly adjust to their parents being in high conflict.
Contact me for any questions you may have about any of the above.