The following comes from Jean Kunhardt M.A, LMHC and Lisa Spiegel M.A., LMHC, the directors of Soho Parenting, an invaluable resource for families in Lower Manhattan:
Simple and Honest: Telling Your Children About Separation
Telling your children that you are separating is a frightening prospect. It is the dividing line between before and after, and for most kids it is an event they will always remember. Here is some guidance about how to thoughtfully plan it, what to troubleshoot for, and how to follow up with your children.
HAVE YOUR PLANS IN PLACE
Tell children when you know where each parent will live and how you will divide the time, at least for the next few months. If possible, have the new place set up before you tell them. Tell your children together, early in the day on the weekend.
“Your mom and I have mad a big, hard decision and want to tell you about it. We will always be your mommy and daddy but we are not going to be married and live together anymore.”
“Mom is going to be moving to_______ .I am going to be staying here in our apartment. You will stay here with me Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. You will stay in your new room at Mom’s on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.”
BE OPEN AND AVAILABLE
“We know you are going to have a lot of reactions and questions and big feelings about this. We want you to tell, or ask us anything you want.”
BOTH PARENTS GET CREDIT AND BLAME
Present the decision as if both of you are to blame for the separation and credit that you tried to work things out. They will need to be angry at someone so let it be both of you. Blaming and shaming hurts the children more than the spouse. Reassure your children that they are the best part of your marriage and this is not happening because of anything they did, or said, or thought.
Give them time for a reaction or no reaction. Tears, tantrums, blank acceptance and/or withdrawal are all normal responses. Allow for this and know that there will need to be a lot of follow up.
Have a Plan in place for right after you tell them:
Getting together for an activity with friends who know and can be supportive is often the best thing to do. Bowling, movies, or a meal with other kids and grownups diffuses tensions and helps children see that life still does continue.
Separation and divorce is enormously painful, but when parents stick to the idea of “simple and honest” children can be protected from the fear and turmoil that comes with confusion.
For more wise words on parenting, read their blog, Parent Talk