It must be the hardest part of any separation for a parent when your child asks you "Why?"
Working in family law, we at Cairns Divorce Lawyers are often asked for advice on these matters and it is never easy.
As an adult, it can be a time of many emotions, from despair to relief (never mind the legal implications), but in the role of parent, it is essential to take another stance and try to see things through a child's eyes. Your child has probably only ever known life inside this family.
How do we answer these questions as parents?
It is going to be nearly impossible to anticipate every question that your children may have, but it is imperative that both yourself and your ex-partner align your approach and decide how you are going to address the concerns of your kids before the subject is approached with them.
Before having this conversation with your children, here are some points to consider:
It’s Not You, It's Us
This is the number one fact to make clear for your children - this is a decision made between two adults and has not been the result of anything that the children have done.
No matter how tough the actual separation is between you and your ex-partner, it is vital not to blame each other in your discussions with children. Conveying strong negative emotions towards each other, such as disappointment or anger can be very damaging to the wellbeing of your child and their ability to process their new family status.
Don't Discuss the Details
Another thing to avoid is discussing the details with your children, even if it seems that they are old enough and mature enough to understand. Issues that have led to marital breakdown will not be helpful for them and its' best to keep it brief and simple. Matters of family law also should be between yourselves as adults and your lawyers.
Speak in Their Language
This will depend on the age of your children - 'divorce' can be a frightening word for younger kids to hear. They can associate it with finality in their relationships with both parents. It is best to use language which describes the concepts of starting a new life and living apart. Reassurance is key throughout these conversations, they must feel that they will be loved and provided for and will still have both parents in their lives always.
Don't be afraid of Emotions
While it can be upsetting, it is healthy to encourage and allow your children to show their emotions, they need to be able to share their feelings and responses at this highly charged time. For you and your ex-partner, however, regulating emotions in front of the kids really matters.
Even though separation is the end of your relationship, family life will continue in a new form, with (usually) two households. The children's needs will continue to be provided for by both parents, and they will always be loved unconditionally, regardless of legal status. Reinforce this with your children and emphasize the continuity of their family. Talk through all the examples of how things might work, such as how they will keep in touch with each parent if they are missing them and not physically seeing them each day. Reassure them that they can always have contact through phone, FaceTime, texting, whatever works for their stage and maturity. Always using positive and encouraging language.
Communication on the subject of separation is only starting, this isn't going to be the only conversation. It is important for you all to feel like it's ok to talk about concerns at any point, this is a new situation for everyone. Try to be as honest and straightforward as you can while remaining respectful to your ex-partner. Stay mindful of the fact that they will always be the other parent of your children, no matter what has happened in your relationship or the legal situation.
Separation is a difficult time for anyone. At Cairns Divorce Lawyers we have many years of local experience in Family Law matters.
If you would like some advice about Separation and Family Law, contact Cairns Divorce Lawyers for a no-obligation consultation