Parental Guide - Telling the Children
WHAT SHALL WE TELL THE CHILDREN ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING?
If possible, tell your children together, even the little ones, and before the decision to separate.
Offer clear and honest explanations that your children can understand.This is best done at home and not just before bedtime. Weekends may offer the opportunity for you both to be around to answer their questions.
Be clear that this is the adults’ decision and that they are not responsible. It doesn’t mean that you will stop being parents. They need to know that you will both continue to be available for them as much as possible, try to undertake the same activities and show them you will always love them.
Your children may need to ask the same questions repeatedly and seek endless reassurance. Offer this as much as possible, but be realistic about the implications e.g. will daddy read me a story every night?
Allow your children to express their own emotions – sadness, rage, sarcasm, silence, lack of response, pleading, denial. These are real emotions that they feel and they need the opportunity to express them. Whilst you can understand a child’s unhappiness you may need to draw a line somewhere about what is acceptable and what isn’t and why it isn’t. For example, the child who always talks about their absent parent in abusive terms in the presence of younger siblings may need to be told how damaging this is.
HOW MUCH CONTACT SHOULD THEY HAVE WITH EACH OF US?
As much as possible. It is very common for children to be concerned about both of you following a separation and they will want to know where you are and that you are okay.
The easiest way for them to do this is to see both of you as often as possible. They can then ask all the questions that may be important to them and seek reassurance that you both still want to be with them even if you are not together as a couple. This may not be practically easy for you or you may not want to offer contact to a partner who has left you, particularly if there is a third party. Your children need you to be positive about contact. It’s all too easy to be negative about arrangements with separated partners. Try and see problems as things to overcome and not as reasons to limit contact.
In between seeing you, phone calls and letters will help to reassure your children that the relationship with them is important and will continue. They may also want to ask you little questions which are important to them such as do you remember where you put a video. It is really helpful if they can ring you and ask you without feeling either of you will mind.
Think about the ages of your children and the level and timing of the arrangements for them to be with you. It is important that they are not prevented from seeing each of you nor forced into regular arrangements that feel uncomfortable for them. Listen to your children, allow them to have a voice in the arrangements. The whole idea of contact will seem unnatural to everyone. Try as much as possible to be flexible and minimise the artificiality.
It is really important for both of you to keep to arrangements that you make for your children to see you. If they are changed or do not take place, this may add to your children’s sense of helplessness and abandonment.