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Telling kids about separation - advice please

(18 Posts)
Bigviking Wed 26-Feb-14 23:25:20


My husband and I are separating. For the last month one or other of us has been staying away with friends so we haven't been sleeping in the same bed but the kids are pretty oblivious to the situation.

We have a DS 8 and DD 3. There have been no fights or atmosphere. To the outside world and even most of our families (those we haven't told), we are the perfect couple. However, we've been having problems for a year and it's my choice to end the marriage. I just don't love DH the way that I should and think we should both be free to meet other people.

I think DD is too young to understand and will hopefully just adapt, but I'm terrified about telling DS as it will be a thunderbolt to him.

This might be a bizarre question but is there a better day / time to tell him? Maybe on a Saturday afternoon when there's time to do something nice afterwards? Should I tell school and childminder in advance?

Also, I'm concerned that he might feel resentful towards either me or DH or both of us. DH has agreed that I will buy him out of the house and he will live at his mum's. I don't want DS to think that his dad is the one doing the leaving as DH has done nothing wrong. This is my choice, not his. I'm not sure how much I should explain to DS.

Would really welcome advice from anyone with experience of this, thanks.

talullah57 Thu 27-Feb-14 00:59:32

I couldn't go to bed without responding to you. I don't have a small child, my son is 16. What I DO KNOW however is to make sure that whenever you tell your son, be sure to tell him first and foremost that mummy and daddy love him and his sister WHATEVER happens. I think it is paramount to reinforce that right from the start in order that poor kid doesn't think your problems are his. They are NOT. I would also have a quiet word at school as his school days amount to 1/3rd of his day. Very important. School teachers are well trained and will help you to help him. Bless you, I wish you all the very best.

MrsGiles Thu 27-Feb-14 06:47:04

I've been in a similar situation. My XH and I didn't argue but he showed no time for me and has been quite selfish over the years. We live separate lives in the same house and eventually I decided I deserve better.
We have 2 DDs and I told them after Christmas. I explained that Mummy will be getting a new house and that they would come and live in the new house, but would also see a Daddy for 50% of the time. I explained the new house and where it would be and how we could choose new beds and things together. Things have gone a lot better than I thought they would have. The DDs are 8 and 5 and have asked things like : why isn't Daddy coming to the new house? And why don't you kiss Daddy anymore? But overall, with reinforcing how much they are loved by both parents, it has been OK. Good luck x

17leftfeet Thu 27-Feb-14 06:55:22

My dds were 8&5 when I split up with their dad

I thought it would be a bolt from the blue but its amazing what 8 years olds pick up on and my oldest had already figured it out

They were both quite accepting of it

I would advise you though to speak to your husband about parenting when he's with his parents

If contact takes place at the grandparents house it's very easy for the grandparents to step into the parenting role and it changes relationships -that has been the biggest problem for us post split

fireandlife Thu 27-Feb-14 07:17:35

From the child's perspective - my parents were in exactly this situation. (we were aged 5, 9 and 12) They were exemplary in the way they told us and in the way they ensured we felt loved and not to blame. We are pretty well adjusted, happy adults. Because we were thoughtful and keen not to upset anyone or make our parents feel bad our mother doesn't think it has really affected us too much. HOWEVER - the break up of our perfect, loving family was devastating to us and still is. Every wedding, Christening, funeral, Christmas etc, etc has a pang of well hidden sadness to it. So just be aware that however well your children 'deal' with this and however great and amicable you and your DH are, the grief they will suffer at the loss of thier family will be one that they have to learn to live with - hopefully reasonable well. BUT parents, please don't kid yourselves that breaking up a child's perceived perfect family will be anything other than utterly devastating for them.

DonkeysDontRideBicycles Thu 27-Feb-14 09:41:02

I have heard that the important thing is to stress you both love them very much and that won't change. Mummy and Daddy don't make each other happy anymore. Explain to them that they will still see their dad and where he will be living, which as it's their grandma's they can visualise.

Even if parents only partially disappear from the children’s daily life, my understanding is it's the uncertainty around contact that can be devastating for them. While you and STBXH are still on good terms you need to work out how to sustain a good quality of relationship with the absent parent.

When telling the DCs, if you know of any other families who are in the same situation you could use them as an example.

Regarding timing, perhaps he could move his stuff whilst the DCs are out with you and then you tell them together. Then you could stay with them while he goes.

Even though you are the one who technically ends it you know deep down it takes two. DS may be resentful towards you so to show him you will still cooperate, agree on what you are going to say beforehand, and avoid contradicting each other or apportioning blame.

The DCs might ask questions and it might even be the same questions repeatedly, as it sinks in.

Staying as civilised as you can with STBX will help reduce the stress on both DCs.

Bigviking Thu 27-Feb-14 09:53:35

Thanks everyone for your responses. I meant to say that we are planning on 50:50 shared child care, but obviously we will need to see how things go and how the kids cope.

I too have concerns about them being at DH mum's. She's a wonderful grandma but she's pushing 80 (her husband died last year). I'm worried that DH will become trapped there and what effect it would potentially have on the kids.

Dahlen Thu 27-Feb-14 10:27:44

Does your H's mum live close by. For 50/50 to work, it really requires both parents to be living very close together so that both live within easy difference of school/clubs, etc.

What causes the damage from divorce/separation is not that both parents no longer live together. Children quickly adjust to that. What causes harm is an atmosphere of hostility, a child's fear that it may be their fault in some way, significant changes to their lifestyle (e.g. moving home, far less money, losing out on friendships/clubs because of contact arrangements, a change in relationship with parents who are no longer as emotionally available either because of less physical time spent with them or because those parents are too wrapped up in their own emotions. As children get older, events like family weddings/graduations etc can cause issues. It is sadly a rare family where divorced parents can attend a family function together amicably (especially with new partners). It's not unheard of though, where a split has been conducted without animosity and with respect for all involved.

If you can be mindful of all those things and do your best to counteract them, your children will be fine. Changed yes, a little sadder about life maybe, but not damaged. And remember that any scars they bear will probably be fewer and less deep than if you had stayed together, deeply unhappy, and becoming ever more resentful/emotionally withdrawn. Few people go through life without experiencing some sort of emotional difficulties; this will be your DCs. IF you handle it well, it will be far easier for them than experiencing a completely dysfunctional family throughout their childhoods with all the messages they internalise from relationships about that.

As for telling them, I think you're right about DD probably taking it very straightforwardly, although be prepared for questions emerging over time. For DS a lot will depend on his temperament. Is he outgoing or shy? Sensitive or bombproof? Some children fare better being told in a quiet one-to-one environment where they can ask lots of questions, but IME most prefer to be told in a way that means they can avoid eye contact and not have to say anything at all at that point. To that end, a car journey where it's just the two of you can work very well. Allow time for you to stop to talk face-to-face if he wants to.

When it comes to telling him, be as matter-of-fact about it as possible. Personally, I would not say that it's your decision. IMO the trouble with making one parent responsible for the split is that it inadvertently makes a child feel like there is a protagonist and a victim. It encourages 'sides' and children often then feel emotionally responsible for the 'victim'. I think it's actually far easier for children if they feel that the decision to separate is a joint one that has been fully endorsed by both parents. It reduces the risk of them feeling any misguided responsibility and hanging on to false hope of a reconciliation. If your DS asks why, I think it's fine to say that you have been unhappy for a time but add that when you talked about it with H you both decided a split was the best course of action. I really hope your H can be on board for this.

I think it's great that you want to stress that your H is not abandoning the children by leaving. But I don't feel you need to exonerate him by blaming yourself. That's guilt talking; it's a good way of easing your conscience by assuming responsibility, but it's not a good way of helping your DC deal with things IMO. Far better to let actions speak louder than words and reassure the DC that they can still have a full relationship with both parents regardless of living arrangements - because they can. Many children actually see more of their non-residential parent and do more with them following divorce because time is scheduled and protected for them.

As long as you and your H put the DC first, you will all come through this. Good luck.

Bigviking Thu 27-Feb-14 17:34:57

Would it be terrible if I cry? I'm crying just thinking about it sad

Bigviking Fri 07-Mar-14 18:51:52

Bumping as I think we're talking to DS this weekend. Would be grateful to hear any more advice, thanks

Minime85 Fri 07-Mar-14 19:06:01

tell them together, you and you dh. tell them how much u both love them but that you just want to be friends etc. be ready for lots of questions. and for the questions to be over a long period of time. have something to distract them with after like a DVD or favourite programme or out on bikes.

I would tell them when he will be going. try and stay as civil as you can and good luck.

its tough but they get through. their little lives do become more complicated but I think kids can be very resilient and cope well. x

Minime85 Fri 07-Mar-14 19:26:40

I also invited ex back for Sunday dinner following week. he has also done Xmas and birthdays together so if u can reassure them thongs like that won't change. we eased ours into staying over at his house too as eldest (8 at time) wasn't ready for a long time. think that all needs to cone from them though, let them lead it x

HowLongIsTooLong Fri 07-Mar-14 22:03:28

Do your best to hold it together - you may gain strength from the sense of responsibility you have towards the children when you tell them. I agree that it is best not to talk about whose decision it was - present it as a joint decision and start the talk with how much you both love both of them and will forever and both will always be there for them. We separated when my daughters were 7 and 3. The youngest did not take it all in really, too young I think, but the oldest was quite emotional, which made me tearful too. We gave her lots of hugs and I found myself telling her several times that "everything is going to be ok" - it seemed to help and it even reassured me! Interestingly, her first question was about buying some slippers to keep at Daddy's new place. We all went shopping together the next day to buy some of the basics they would need for their new "second home". The separation is still painful, to be honest, and I still feel guilty about it, but despite what an early poster said about the children always being affected, children are also very badly affected if their parents have an unhappy marriage (my experience) and they somehow feel responsible, or want to solve the unsolveable and wonder why they cannot have the perfect family set-up. I don't think parents should stay together for the kids - mine did and it was miserable.

Stillcomingtoterms Fri 07-Mar-14 22:06:58

I can't advise you on if we did it the right or wrong way because I'm guessing it won't be until the dc are older will we really know, however,

Me and dh split in September. We decided the best thing was to tell them a few weeks before he moved so that they could ask either of us questions and also see we were still friends.
Telling them was heartbreaking, the worst day ever! Dd9 ran up to her room and ds7 cried hysterically for hrs. Me and dh also cried. We told them that husbands and wives love each other in a special way and sometimes the love goes. We stressed the love for children is different and never goes. We said we were friends but didn't want to live together and so dh would soon look to move out.
We then included them on looking for a house for him and new furniture etc.
We told them on a Saturday and on the Monday I called the school and asked for their teachers to be told.
We have continued to be friends and spend family occasions together so the dc do not feel they have to choose who to spend it with.
The hardest part for dd9 was getting used to sleeping in a new house. She didn't like sleeping over dh's It disturbed her routine and as a result she kept crying in school. In the end we all sat down together and came up with a compromise. This was to move the day she slept over there.
She found it too hard being away from home two days running.

I ask them occasionally how they're doing and they both say they're used to it now and both seem ok.
The next hurdle will be if either of us find anyone and how that alters the dynamics.

Good luck.

itstheyearzero Fri 07-Mar-14 22:20:02

I hope you don't mind me jumping on this thread, but I feel like me and my partner have reached the end of our relation ship, and the only thing that is stopping me from saying it is the fear of how DS who is 5 will take it. I have been kidding myself thinking it would be OK to stay together for his sake, I am deeply unhappy and for my own sanity I need to end it. Has anyone done this with one child who idolises his father? I don't know what to do, once I have said it I can't unsay it, and I am scared of saying it. Sorry OP, hope you don't mind me asking for advice here, I am driving myself mad with it...

Minime85 Sat 08-Mar-14 13:10:44

sorry keep thinking of other things, we all visited daddy's new house together before he left. we told them a week before he moved out although we knew sooner than that which was hellish. it was awful but felt better to tell them the truth than carry on the happy family pretence.

we told the headteacher in person on the Friday and told them on the Saturday. we wanted to be sure the teachers knew before they went to school on Monday. be specific about who u want to know. I was conscious that others parents work at the school and didn't want it to be gossip.

I got PJs and dressing gown for them to leave at his. there are still photos up of him at ours and they have one of me in their to there. no restrictions on calling him whenever they want.

we hope to follow the line that whatever we would have done for them together, we will still do but just in different houses.

elmerelephant Sat 08-Mar-14 17:36:45

Dont tell the school first, I found out my parents were divorcing when my teacher didnt give me any homework to do as "I was leaving tomorrow".

Lavenderhoney Sat 08-Mar-14 20:02:16

My dh didn't want to get involved at all in telling the dc and has never discussed it with them ( 6 &4) and behaves as though its not actually happening with them.

I made clear it was nothing to do with them at all, and reiterate that. Outwardly they don't behave any differently, as not much has changed- I do everything as usual. They weren't used to him being around at all before we left, in their young lives.

I have no idea how they will react to a new partner. I just think unless its serious they have no need to know or meet them at all.

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