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How Do We Tell the Children Separately
If the separation is difficult, most likely you and your spouse will be telling your child or the children separately. That is the How. Regarding What to tell them, it might that you will say Mom and Dad will be living apart because we are no longer happy together.
If there is substance abuse that is being addressed, if Mom or Dad is in rehab, be honest and tell the children that Mom or Dad has a problem with drinking or drugs, because he or she has some unhappiness he or she has to work through, and is working on that. Or if your spouse is NOT properly addressing addiction issues, you may have to tell your child or children that Mom and Dad have to separate to keep the child safe. In these cases, you can tell your child that he or she can certainly love Mom or Dad who has an addiction problem, but not to accept or love the behavior.
If there is physical abuse, and a parent was taken away by the police for hitting the other parent, that is a consequence of that parent doing something he or she should not have done, that is wrong. No, Mommy didn't "put Daddy in jail," Daddy put himself there for breaking the law and doing something he should not have done that is wrong. Or Mommy did something she should not have done that is wrong. In either case, it is important to teach a child that physical abuse is not to be tolerated, and that there are consequences to breaking the law and committing a criminal assault and battery. You do not want to teach your child to either accept physical abuse, or to think it is ever appropriate.
If there is a "significant other," then it is important, again, to be honest, and to keep the trust of your child. But he or she only needs a G-rated version of events. And remember, divorce, like any other conflict, will bring out the best or the worst in people, and how you conduct yourself through that difficulty models that behavior for your child.
If you try to alienate your child from a parent who was unfaithful, you will likely, in most cases, ultimately hurt that child. And when your child figures out that you exaggerated the blame, he or she will be angry at you.
It is important for the child, especially a young child who is still anchored to the foundations of others, to believe that the other parent will never stop loving him or her. There are, however, cases where a parent walks away from a child. In those heartbreaking situations it is also important to be honest. Or the separation may be because one parent is going to rehab for substance abuse, or jail, or maybe a protective order was entered. In these situations, you may want to say that
Dad (if it was Dad) left because he is thinking more about himself than about the family right now. That is sad, because he is missing out on all the wonderful experiences he could have with beautiful you. It is nothing about you. Your Dad needs to focus just on himself right now, which is his loss, but I am here for you and we will get through this and take one day at a time. While Dad works on getting better, we will also focus on keeping you safe. We may have to move or change a few things, but we will try to keep you in the same kinds of activities, and will help you and be there for you as we build our new life. You can talk to me if you miss your Dad, but understand that his choices are because he is making decisions that are unfortunate. You are so worthy of being loved. Your Dad may just be having trouble being able to feel and show that love right now.
In these difficult cases where someone goes to rehab, or a restraining order is entered restricting the child's contact with a parent, When to tell the child will be at the time that Mom or Dad goes away or had to leave.
In my opinion, the most important consideration of that very difficult conversation is honesty. When life changes dramatically for a child, and a parent is no longer in the picture as much, it is important for a child who has no control over the situation to at least feel that he or she is getting trustworthy information. Don't just say Mom or Dad is on a business trip, when that trip becomes a 90 day stay in rehab. Explain instead that Mom or Dad is working on getting better, and is learning how to live without needing to drink alcohol or use drugs, because using alcohol or drugs is not healthy.
This brief article only addresses a little about How, When and What to tell your child about a decision to separate and divorce. The separation and divorce will be an ongoing process, and your child will need support, attention, patience and love. That support, attention, patience and love are perhaps difficult for you to give when you need all the same things, and are maybe trying to work a job and run the household at the same time. Which is why it is important to take care of yourself also, so you can be strong for your child. Sort of like if your house floods, you aren't helping your child any by saying "Oh no, everything is lost, what are we going to do? This is terrible!" No, you're the parent. That's when you say "Hey, we're all going down to the school or stadium, and we're going to sleep on these little beds with a big red cross on them for awhile, and eat those donated food items. Yay!" Because you are the parent.
If your child is struggling, look for activities that can help to boost your child's self-esteem. Real life experiences, not just isolating, fantasy-world computer games. You may look to see if your child's school counselor has a support group for children whose parents are separating or divorcing. And of course you need to reach out to your own support network so you can be strong for everyone.
Your children will take their cues from you. If you present the situation as "Hey, Dad has a new special friend that you will be seeing every now and then," or "We will be moving soon to a smaller place and we'll decorate the walls in your room to be special," that is the new normal. To present the new normal in a positive light is better parenting than to say things like "Your father or mother broke up our family to live with a new horrible person and now we have to go live in an awful little place instead of in this nice big house." Good parents do not vilify or mistreat the other parent. Bad parents hurt their children by trying to alienate them from a parent due to their own hurt or anger. There is a right and a wrong in how you work with your children, even though you may feel the whole situation is inherently wrong.
Remember, divorce, like any conflict or difficulty, brings out the best or the worst in people. You brought your children into this world. Teach them to deal with unfairness and adversity with strength, dignity and respect.
Spouses in Virginia who are contesting child custody, visitation, or support must attend a parenting class. The court may also order attendance in uncontested cases.
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