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How do I tell my kids my marriage is over?


Advice Q & A with Melissa Hughes

Perinatal Psychotherapist

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The Q

My husband and I are divorcing. I’m very worried about how our children are going to take it. We have a three year old daughter and six year old son. What is the best way to tell them?

The A

The end of a relationship is always a difficult time, and the way I support my clients through these times is to be honest. Age appropriate honesty is the best way forward with children.

If you start with the premise that they are naturally quite self-focused and introspective then it becomes very important for you as the parents to let them know that it is not about them.  Instead focus on the fact that both of you are keen to work out a way for them to have a wonderful, and fulfilling life. This new life may look different to how it is now, but change is part of life, and you and your husband will be there to help them through it.

Children before the age of seven are still in the early formative years psychologically, and, as such, still have some magical thinking. Children between the ages of five to seven years old, may be clear about what is real or pretend, but they still use magical thinking to explain what they see as reactions to their own behavior.

They might believe that their desires have an effect on others. For example, “My sister got sick because I was angry.” Or, that actions can actually affect the world in magical ways, as in “Close your eyes and make a wish.” The danger here is that sometimes children will use magical thinking to blame themselves for things that happen in their family lives. A child at this stage might blame themselves for their parents’ marriage break down, thinking that it happened because they were “bad.” And often these children keep this kind of magical thinking to them self.

In cases such as this, it is important to tell a child that there was nothing anybody “did” that caused this particular event to happen. This will mean that they will probably wish for things to return to how they always were. It is important that you, and your husband work out a combined strategy for dealing with the child’s inquiries and upsets. It is also important that through the times that you are struggling, you are honest about how you are feeling, always adding that you can take care of your own feelings, for example:

“I know it’s hard to see mummy crying, but I am sad. It’s not about you, but I do feel sad and that’s ok. How do you feel today? If you would like to help, you could give me a hug, your hugs always make Mummy feel better. Thank you, now what would you like to play next?”

This is an art and not a science and, as such, you may hit a few bumps along the road. It is sometimes helpful to remember that many families go through this process, and that kids are incredibly resilient.

The fact that you are asking for advice on the best way to move forward means that you are obviously a thinking and caring parent. The most important thing in taking care of the children’s feelings, is taking care of your own first.

You may also want to seek the support of a therapist who can help you and your children manage the seperation process.




Advice Q & A with Melissa Hughes. Ask Melissa a question.

Melissa is the Director of Baby and Beyond Parental Counselling. She specialises in prenatal and postnatal counselling: covering issues such as transition to parenting, successfully managing maternity leave, support through postnatal anxiety/depression, antenatal anxiety/depression and relationship issues. Melissa has lectured at Universities across Sydney and contributed as an expert in parenting and relationship articles as well as writing for magazines. Her work in group therapy for postnatal depression was recognised by the Centre for Leadership for Women in 2009 and she continues to facilitate groups on a weekly basis.


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