Telling a child you are getting a divorce. Or "How to tell a 5 year old their lives are about to be turned upside down & other fun conversations."
Tough conversations. We've all had to deliver them, and we've all had to hear them.
Some tough conversations might go like....
“I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to let you go”.
Yep thats tough.
“It’s not you, it’s me….."
Pretty tough. Or even tougher...
"It's not me, it's you".
Ouch. That's really tough.
“I’m sorry we are out of Ben and Jerrys New York Super Fudge Brownie.”
Thats just f#$ked up tough!
And then there’s….
“Hey Jethro, I know you're only 5 years old, and everything seems amazing right now in this beautiful big family home with a pool, over looking the river and the bush, and you have a mum and dad who love each other and you more than anything in the world, BUT..... that’s all about to change. Big time. Soz. Oh, except the bit about mum and dad loving you. That will never change. But the rest, that’s all done with.
Now, what would you like for dinner?”
Ok so it didn’t quite go like that, but that is one tough conversation to navigate with a child. Almost as tough as the guy at the shop telling me they’d run out of Ben and Jerrys.
One of the things I frequently get asked is, “how did you tell Jethro the news ?” (No not about the Ben and Jerrys). It’s also one of the things I feel I’m proud of, in terms of the way we handled it. I did a lot of research on the best way to tell a child of Jethros age about parents separating. I actually wrote a guide script, just incase I lost my shit half way through and broke down in a teary snotty mess. As a creative writer, this is one script I never thought I'd have to write. And I did, for a second, consider having it voiced and produced into a big dramatic movie trailer like production, and Jethro could simply press play on his iPad so I wouldn’t have to deliver the news - looking into those big brown eyes. The script, I have shared with other friends going through the same, who have found it helpful, so I've copied it into the bottom of this post - it's yours to borrow, steal, and rewrite for your own personal use.
While you have to lead with your heart on these matters, I know I personally didn’t want to just dive in and wing it under prepared. With all the beautiful, diverse people and personal stories in the world, this conversation is going to be different for everyone. It varies with the age of the child and if you have more than one child and some bigger age gaps, there maybe a few different conversations to be had. Their little developing minds and souls have a lot to process. Certain ages don’t yet understand the difference between the love parents have (or had) for each other, and the unconditional love they get from their parents, stepparents, carers etc and why one type of "love" can end and another doesn't.
They also may not really comprehend what they’ve just heard, straight away. They may be very black and white and simply ask some very non emotional but logical questions. It’s about putting yourself in their shoes and having an understanding of the bigness of this conversation they are about to take on board.
We will always love you, and always be your mum and dad.
(Of course if you become an underworld murdering ice dealer, that may test that theory....)
However, in all the research I did, there are two things that were very clear and stay true no matter what the age of the child/ren involved. Here is how I expressed.....
1. While this decision changes how mum and dad feel about each other, it will NEVER change how we both feel about you. We will always love you, and will always be your mum and dad. (Of course if you become an underworld murdering ice dealer, that may test that theory....)
This covers the obvious point around love - and that while the love may be gone between you and your partner, it will always be there for your child, as its a different type of love. It also covers any confusion of new partners or step parents coming into their lives, that while they may grow to love your children too, their mum and dad can never be replaced. Or mum and mum or dad and dad….. depending on your situation.
2/ None of this is your fault, or because of you. This is just about how mum and dad feel about each other. It is not something you can stop or fix.
This point seems odd to say straight off the bat, but it's very important to make clear. While they are only just hearing the news for the first time, and they haven’t even thought that it may in their minds be something they’ve caused, it is better to stop that thought before it even arrives, if at all. The fixing part is in reference to your child trying to solve adult problems. You wouldn’t be a parent if you haven’t been witness to a child trying to manipulate a situation and try and get what they want. “Pleeeeaaasseeeee can I have an ice cream?” When they see the two people they love the most and a feeling of home and safety disappearing from that relationship, it is natural that they will want to try and “fix it”, even unconsciously.
The other thing I wrote into my script, was a list of possible questions and answers. It’s all well and good delivering the news to a curious little human, but we all know the kinds of questions that can launch out of their mouths at anytime.
So…be prepared with the questions that might be thrown at you straight away, and more so down the track when you are stuck in traffic and a little voice at the back of the car asks a question when you least expect it after they have processed what’s going on.
I remember it so clearly. Jethros mum and I joined him on the lounge room floor, sitting by the window over looking the beautiful bushland and river below. Jethro was on the rug playing with his lego. "Mummy and daddy have to have a little family chat, ok buddy?". In the end, while it was extremely hard, and I felt a rather huge lump in my throat, I wanted to make it, simple and clear in my deliver. I felt like it was a bit of an out of body experience, but the conversation went as well as something like that can. After we had delivered the news, and while I was proud in how calm and centred I was. Sure, later on my own I was a sobbing mess.
Jethro asked a couple of questions about where we would all live, and then, to bvring him self back to earth and normalise the situation for himself at that moment, simply said....
“Can I go back to playing with my lego now?”
Straight back to something he knew, something safe and comfortable.
As always, this is my story and what worked or didn’t work for me. Borrow, take, steal what works for you, or ignore it all. All I can hope is that this gets you thinking and challenges the way you may approach this new journey. As always I welcome feedback, suggestions, and questions to keep the conversation going.
How did you deliver your news, and how did it go? What worked? What would you have done differently?
Here is the script and questions I wrote and used.
My Guide Script:
How to tell a child you are getting a divorce.
Mum and dad need to have an important family conversation.
You may have noticed mum and dad not kissing each other or hugging each other as much, and sleeping in separate bedrooms.
That’s because mum and dad, are not happy living with each other anymore. It is difficult to explain why this happens with adults.
Eg: It might be like when you don’t want to play with some kids but not other kids.
Mum and dad have tried to fix this, by talking lots and getting help from other people. But if people who are married become unhappy with each other, it is better to try and see how they can be happy again. Sometimes that means not living together and not being husband and wife anymore.
What happens now:
Mum and dad feel it is better to live separately, so they can be more happy.
If mum and dad stay together, they are likely to make each other unhappy and argue lots, and that’s not healthy.
What does this mean:
This changes how mum and dad feel about each other, but it will NEVER change how we both feel about you. We will still be your mum and dad forever and we will always love you.
This is a really hard decision to make and we are both very sad about it. But it will end up being better for all of us as a family.
Two things that are the most important for you to remember:
1/ Mum and dad will always love you, and we will always be your mum and dad.
2/ None of this is because of you or your fault, and you cant fix this in anyway. This is just about how mum and dad feel about each other. We are still friends and will still talk to each other, but we will no longer be married, or live together.
How you might feel:
You will probably feel angry, sad and confused. That’s ok. You can ask mum and dad as many questions as you want to. We might not know all the answers yet, but we will try and answer the best we can.
If you don’t want to talk to us and you want to talk to anyone else that’s ok too. Just ask mum and dad and we can call them for you to talk to. (Family / Friends)
Q: What happens next?
A: We are still working through that at the moment and we will let you know. (see next question)
Q: Where will we live?
A: We will still live here for a while, and eventually mum and dad will move into two separate homes and you will share your time between us.
Q: Why cant you just try and fix it and stay together?
A: We have tried, and we are very sad, and it is difficult to explain, but mum and dad will feel happier not living together.
Q: Why wont you stop loving me if you stop loving each other?
A: The way Mums and Dads love each other is different to the way they love their children. We will never ever stop loving you. We will always be your mum and dad.
Q: Do I have to choose between mum and dad?
A: you never have to choose between us. You will have set days at each of our houses. Just like some days mum takes you to school, some days dad does.
Q: What about all my stuff? Toys? Clothes?
A: We will have your own bedroom at each of our places that is your space, and you can have your stuff at each.
Q: What if I want to talk to one of you when I’m at the other ones house?
A: We will still meet for family dinners, we will always be available to talk on the phone, video call and we will still see you at your activities – karate, swimming, soccer, dancing et when we can.
Q: What about Christmas, Birthdays, Holidays?
A: Christmas and Birthdays we will all be together. Holidays might be split between mum and dad, and maybe sometimes we will go away together.
SO that was what we used. I hope it helps you, or someone you know. I'd love to Hear your comments or suggestions. Good luck!
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