Managing Director of Painless Divorce, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society
The end of the year brings many festivals. However, for some couples, the strain of this time can be too much to bear. For some, the impending celebrations feel like a sham and bring with them a sense of dread, so much so that December and January can be the time when decisions to end a relationship come to the fore.
If you find your family in this position there are some clear “dos and don’ts” to avoid making this “together” time of year one that your children associate with their parents splitting up.
Once you know it’s time to separate, the next thing is: who do you tell and when? There is no good time to tell your children their parents are splitting up, but if there has already been lots of shouting and distress around them they will be sensitive to anything else that creates more. Neuroscience shows this impacts on developing brains, so before you say anything to your children, you need to agree a plan of what you are going to say and when – and do this together.
Children do not separate from their parents. You, the adults, are ending your personal relationship, but your relationship as parents together does NOT end!
What you say must be geared to your children’s ages. Follow what they ask about and stop when they appear distracted or disinterested. They will be processing a lot, so keep it simple and answer the questions they ask, but do not give them information they haven’t asked for. If you do that, it is likely you’ll be dumping things you can’t cope with, onto them.
If breaking up around Christmas has to happen, try to create a minimum of a 2/3 week gap between this and the festivities. Your children are still likely to be in shock but it gives you time to explain what you’ve planned for them. This is why having a plan is essential: over the coming festivities, your children will want to see you both and will worry about whoever they are not with. Planning is key. It can include, whoever is leaving home coming to do bath times and bedtime stories for the first few months. It could involve both parents being in the family home for Christmas morning, or New Year’s day. You may want to put Skype or Face Time in place to speak to your children when you can’t be together.
Though you are reacting to your relationship ending, your children’s relationship with you and their other parent doesn’t end. Realising that and doing things together this Christmas will make them feel more re-assured, and less worried about their absent parent.