Decide How, When, and Where to Break the News

We told our children during snuggle time in bed, when everyone was feeling safe and close. We didn’t want a formal, nerve-wracking meeting where everyone sat with hands folded in laps. Fortunately, we had slowly prepared, after the OP found a job and another place; he had been a stay-at-home dad for four years, so we waited to break the news until he could support a separate household.

The kids were upset: the eldest (7) inconsolable, the middle child (4½) quiet, the youngest (3) not really getting it. We emphasized that we would always be a family but that they would spend part of each week at mom’s, part at dad’s.

We were lucky that we could cooperate about how to break the news, focusing on the love, in a safe space. Not everyone will have that luxury. If you have any control over how, when, and where you tell the children, choose to do it lovingly, and-if possible-with dignity and a united front. Practice if you can, because it will be awkward as all get-out and-bet you dollars to donuts-one of you will blurt out something inappropriate. The most important thing perhaps is that you both show love during the conversation. Hold your nose if you have to; this is not about you. More details please

  • Plan ahead. Agree on what to say and not to say. It’s not helpful for one parent to say it’s temporary and the other to say it’s permanent.
  • Emphasize that it’s because of discord between the parents, NOT because of anything the children did, said, felt, or dreamed. Let them know that together you considered every possible alternative. Do not dive into the swamp of real reasons.
  • The children will argue. Given the choice between a happy parent in another household or an unhappy one under the same roof, nine times out of ten they will prefer you crying in the next room. This is not about giving them what they want, but about what will enable the family to function better. The kids will suggest that you just go to your rooms and later hug and apologize and decide together what channel to watch, like they have to do.
  • Emphasize that you will be a better team apart. Sometimes it’s just not possible for two people to live together and be happy, or safe, or kind. Giving each parent some space away from constant friction will help everyone to act better towards one another. You can’t be irritated at the state of the house if you are the only one running it.
  • Listen to the children. The decision isn’t open for discussion, but feelings, fears, and logistics are. It will take time to get through their concerns; don’t cut the talk short.
  • If possible, touch each other while talking. This was important to our kids. They wanted to keep touching both of us, and years later they still try to draw us into group hugs. Put aside your aversion and give this small gift to your children. Soon enough they will have only separate memories with each of you.

Everyone will suffer. I have only heard of one instance where the children said, “Well, we wondered how long it would take you to realize you shouldn’t be married.” Chances are that your children won’t be that perceptive or have that perspective. Go easy on yourselves; there is no painless way to do this. Everyone will cry.

But! You can take comfort that a better life is coming. You’ll develop your own ways to pay bills, fold the laundry, park the car, load the dishwasher, and clean the bathroom. This is not trivial stuff; it’s amazing how free and hopeful you can feel about making these choices alone. Knowing you can keep the doors closed in summer and fold your shirts in thirds instead of halves-man, it’s the bomb.

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