Mommy, why isn’t daddy here for dinner?
“Where’s dad? Is he coming back home soon?
Are we going to be a family again?
These are some questions your children may ask when your husband leaves you for another woman. How do you talk to kids about separation and divorce?
Explaining to your kids about daddy leaving the family
Even amid a divorce, both parents remain an integral part of a child’s life. To protect your children during such a traumatic time, there are some things you can do and some things you should avoid. Let’s take a look at them.
1. Keep adult conversations between the adults
There will be many serious discussions between you and your spouse. These don’t need to involve your children. Kids don’t need to shoulder any of the responsibility or worry and become involved in adult matters.
When my husband of 20 years left me for another woman, my daughters were in college and middle school. I had to talk with them about financial changes that would impact them. Each situation is different, and you need to decide how much you can share with your kids without adversely affecting them.
2. Don’t say negative things about their father
You may not know what to tell your children about their father. The anger and fear you feel is strong. Even if they’re younger, your children know you have these palpable emotions. They don’t need you to voice them. If you do this, you risk influencing their feelings towards their dad.
Your husband may not be your spouse anymore, but he will always be the father of your children. Saying negative things about their dad can damage their relationship with him, both now and in the future.
Talk with trusted friends or within a support group, where you have a safe space to express your feelings. If you’re struggling to keep your emotions in check and away from your children, you need to seek professional help.
3. Don’t share sensitive details
If your children want you to talk about what’s happening or ask questions, it’s important to be honest with them. Deceit is part of infidelity; trust within the family is broken, and they need to know you will tell them the truth.
You can share basic facts with your children as they will want to know what’s going on. Be prepared for some tough questions and be firm in setting boundaries for what you will and won’t tell your children.
It’s okay to say, “Dad will be living in another house with someone else.” It’s not okay to say, “Your father is leaving me for another woman and choosing to live with her instead of me.” Both are still facts, but one makes for a softer blow to a child’s sensitive heart and mind.
4. Reassure your children they did nothing wrong
When your former spouse leaves the home, your children will ask why their dad is gone and feel they are to blame. Make sure they know they did nothing wrong. Children naturally feel like they did something to cause the split, so you need to watch for warning signs of stress.
Kids of any age can experience changes in sleep patterns, digestive issues, irritability, outbursts of anger, and depression. If you see any of these in your children, you need to get them in counseling.
5. Work together with their dad
When there are children involved, many U.S. states require parents to take a co-parenting class in order to file for divorce. As challenging as it may be for you, this is something you need to put an effort into. Your children will greatly benefit if they can see you and their dad trying to work together to make an easier transition during a separation.
You will be the one your children talk to most of the time because you’re still there on a daily basis. You need to encourage your kids to be involved with their dad, as hard as this may be for you to see them with “the other woman.” Your children’s relationship with their dad has already been weakened by his actions. Don’t let your own actions add to this stress in their lives.
The facts about the effects of divorce on children are staggering. To ensure your children can retain stability and balance and succeed in school, relationships, and their careers, you need to invest the time to work with their dad for the good of the kids.
What to say to your kid when a parent leaves: An age-by-age guide
Although no guide will have all the answers, here are some examples of what you can say to your children when their dad leaves:
Preschool to early grade school
Mommy and daddy are going to live in separate houses, but you will still see both of us.
Mommy and daddy love you very much and will take care of you.
Elementary to early adolescence
Mom and dad have decided they need to separate and live in different houses. This is because of adult issues between us and has nothing to do with you.
Mom and dad are making changes to our relationship and need you to know that despite this happening, we both love you very much and will be here for you.
Teen to college
Some things have happened, and your dad and I are divorcing. This is because of issues in our relationship, not because of anything you have done.
Some things will be changing in our home, but both your dad and I will continue to be here and to love and support you.
My husband leaving me for another woman pushed me into a season of grief and anger. I didn’t handle it well. I didn’t do all the things I should have done and did some I should have avoided.
If you’re going through the same thing, my heart goes out to you. I hope what I’ve shared will help you with explaining to your kids about daddy leaving the family. Be careful to keep your children out of your adult conversations. Don’t talk negatively about their father and be diligent in working with him to keep peace in your home.
Be cautious about what you share with your children; they don’t need to know all the details of what has happened. Most importantly, make sure they know, beyond any doubt, they did nothing to cause the split between you and their dad.
You don’t have to do this alone. Seeking help in how to comfort a child who misses a parent is one of the bravest things you will do. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a counselor or a support group to learn more about how to talk with your children.
Make good and wise choices, for yourself and your kids. You will get through this, and so will they.
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.-Eleanor Roosevelt
Divorce is a dark time for a family, but you have an opportunity to be a light for your children during this time.