I remember reading on the back of a smoothy drink “Contents may separate, but mummy and daddy both still love you very much.”
I thought it was funny and I also thought about the importance of how to explain changes in family life to children. It seems to me that when preparing for separation, a lot of focus goes into the changes.
Obviously, there will be changes and there’s no point in attempting to hide things because children tend to be razor sharp at picking up on changes in dynamics. They might not say that they have identified something is amiss, they might just start acting differently or their behaviour could change to demonstrate that they are feeling uncertain about the odd dynamics at home.
Within reason, it’s important to be honest about what is happening. They do not need the specific details about why things are changing, but they need to know that changes are going to happen and that it’s because mummy and daddy (not to exclude all of the other possible parental combinations but for ease of typing I will just say mummy and daddy) do not love each other as they did in the beginning and have decided to live in separate places in the future.
There’s no point in creating a new version of the truth because you will then need to remember what you have said previously to keep that version of the story going. For example, I met a parent who had told her daughter that her pet guinea pig had gone on holiday when it had in fact died. It caused a problem when the grandparents said they were going on holiday because the child assumed that they would never return again.
Do be honest, but you do not need to be brutal or derogatory towards the other parent. Your feelings for them are not the same as your child’s feelings for them. Your relationship has broken down with them but your child’s relationship with them will continue.
To balance the uncertainty that will no doubt arise from being honest about the forthcoming changes, you must also make it very clear that the vast majority of life will remain the same. If the vast majority of things are set to change, then make it clear what will stay the same.
If the children will continue to go to the same school, say so. If they will live in the same house, say so. If they only saw mum/dad at the weekends anyway because they were in bed by the time they came home and they will now see them at the weekends in the future, point out how similar that is to the present situation.
A sense of security comes from knowing. For a child that means knowing the people, the places the routine. Having this knowledge gives them confidence and helps them to feel comfortable in their lives. If there are big changes to be made, as much as possible talk them through how things will be going forward so that they have an opportunity to mentally adjust to the changes.
By Gemma Bailey