Marilyn Stowe’s ebook is a comprehensive guide to the every aspect of divorce and separation and is now in its second edition.
In this extract, she looks at how to approach the daunting prospect of telling your children that your marriage is over.
How will you tell the children? It won’t be easy, but they do need to know. If it is possible, sit down with your partner and tell the children together, having agreed what you will say. Extreme care and sensitivity are required.
Julie Levine, the excellent therapist and counsellor to whom I have referred a number of clients in the past, believes that children are better equipped to cope with divorce if they are involved in the process from the start.
She says: “What earths children is what they know. What they don’t know, they fantasise about. Don’t try to “ease them in slowly”, because they will feel cheated. Instead, be honest. Tell them that you are getting divorced, and tell them why. If you do not love one another, tell them so. If you have a new partner, tell them this. Make it very clear that nobody is to blame.
“How will they react? This is difficult to call, because every child is different. It will also depend upon the strength of the child’s relationship with each parent beforehand. If worst comes to worst and the child tries to alienate you, don’t give up. Keep talking to them, as they go through the various stages of acceptance.”
As a parent, I know that a child who feels safe and secure will thrive. Children involved in marital breakdown will probably have heard their parents argue. They will be scared when their parents quarrel and terrified if they fight. Their parents are their only security. I remember when my father had his 30th birthday. My sister cried at night, because she thought he was so old that he was going to die. At the time everyone laughed and reassured her. But children don’t think like adults. They always need to know there is a cocoon around them, and that cocoon is their parents. They need to know also that what’s happening around them isn’t their fault, and that even though they will soon have two homes, probably new homes, it will be with their parents who love them very much.
With older children, there is sometimes a tendency to treat them as adults and to “lean” on them, letting them bear more of the brunt of the divorce than is good for them. Don’t do it, however much they want to play this role. I have seen such situations very often in the course of my work, and noted that as children get older, they long for their stolen childhood. It can scar them. Leave them alone and let them live as children.
I know with my own son that if something was presented to him in a positive way, as something exciting and new, he would accept it. However if he could see worry and fear, it would scare him. How you present the new scenario to your children is vital to their future wellbeing. So make them safe and as much as you can, make it all sound like a happy, thrilling adventure.
Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice from a Top Divorce Lawyer can be downloaded for just 99p here, with all profits going to the Children’s Society.