There is no easy way to look into the eyes of your children amidst family photos on the wall, the family dog sprawled out on the carpet, children’s shoes lying on the floor and tell them their life as they know it is about to change dramatically.
Even if the family home has been riddled with conflict, the first mention of the ‘D’ (divorce) word often comes as a shock.
If you and your partner have managed to salvage some level of respect and communication, the best outcome is to jointly, calmly tell the children that you are getting divorced. It is important that you endeavour to present a reassuring and united front.
Beware of making statements that may not be realistic … “daddy and mummy will always be good friends”, or … “it will be fun for you to have two homes”.
At this stage it is advisable to inform any daycare centre staff, school teachers, counsellor, family doctor and other responsible adults about your separation so they will be aware of your circumstances should the children present any uncharacteristic behaviours.
Realistically though, by the time a divorce is being considered, many families are already too fractured to be able to sit together as a family unit discussing the future in any constructive way, so this ideal of telling the children together in a unified voice is oftentimes not possible.
In these situations it is important to try and calm yourself before breaking the news to the children. Even though you are getting divorced, you remain a parent and a role model for the children and the way you deal with the situation impacts significantly on them. Reinforce that you are still there for them, that even though you are divorcing their other parent, you are certainly not divorcing them.
Remember it is generally not kind, helpful or necessary for you to tell the children the reasons for the marriage breakdown, about that extra marital affair, or anything else that may damage their relationship with your departing partner. Conversations with the children should be kept simple, to the point and age appropriate.
Reassure your children that there is nothing they could have done to save the marriage and that they are not responsible for the breakup – emphasise that it is not their fault.
Research reveals that it is not separation in itself that is the most damaging to children, but rather, the acrimonious emotions and interactions that have longer-term detrimental consequences.
Parents who can remain child focussed and respectful of each other will significantly assist the children in absorbing the shock of transition, building resilience and will give them the best chance at emerging as well-rounded individuals.