When a couple decides to separate, hopefully that decision represents the healthiest way for those adults to move forward in their lives. However, just as divorce can be a healthy or unhealthy decision for adults, it can affect children of divorce in either healthy or unhealthy ways. If you and your spouse have decided to end your marriage, navigating this parenting transition in healthy ways begins with how you decide to approach the subject with your children.
Though the phrase is often well-intentioned, you should avoid beginning this conversation by telling your children that you and your spouse still love each other. You may still love each other deeply. But for a child to hear that you love each other but are deciding to live separate lives is disorienting. Especially to small children, this declaration can lead to confusion about how your love for them will be directed in the future. In addition, it may inspire anger in older children who believe that if you love each other, you should keep trying in your marriage.
In addition, it is important to be clear about what is occurring and not to leave any room for confusion, hope or mixed feelings where none belong. Meaning, if you have made a definitive decision, avoid telling your children that you are separating for a time or living apart to see how things go. Tell them that you have decided to divorce and allow them to process that information without muddying it.
It is also a poor idea to paint your divorce as a positive change. Eventually, this process will hopefully make your newly re-constructed family happier and healthier. But it is more than okay for you to grieve and for your children to grieve. Attempting to place a happy spin on the situation may ring false with older children and may leave younger children wondering why they do not feel happy when they are "supposed to."
Divorcing while parenting can be a truly challenging process. However, focusing on a healthy approach and keeping your children's interests in mind will greatly help to ease this time of familial transition.
Source: Huffington Post, "Telling Your Kids About the Split: The Six Most Common (Well-Intended) Mistakes," Kate Scharff, May 25, 2013