Every parent dreads the conversation. You talk about. Pray about it. Worry about it. Yet few parents know how to prepare for it. If you and your spouse are thinking of separating, here are four vital things you must know before talking to your child.
1) You and your spouse must be on the same page. Discuss with each other what you will say to your child. Plan it out. Create some talking points . . . and stick to them. Make the talk with your child brief. Kids don’t like lectures.
2) You must clearly define the difference between separation and divorce. When your child hears that mom or dad is moving out of the house, his mind will immediately go to the word “divorce.”
Calm his fears right away by defining the two terms. Help him understand what separation is, and what it is not. Give him age-appropriate perimeters surrounding the separation so he has a mental picture of what this new family arrangement will look like.
3) You must create a game plan with tangible goals, and then communicate this plan to your child. This gives your son concrete milestones to look toward instead of having life hang in the balance for an indefinite period of time.
Creating and communicating a game plan means telling your son something like, “Mommy and Daddy are going to talk to a counselor once a week to help us work on some things to make our marriage better.”
Or you can say to your daughter, “Mom and Dad know that we need to live apart for six months. After that we will reevaluate the situation. We might move back in together at that time, or we might stay separated. We don’t know. But we will have another family meeting and let you know what we decide.”
4) You must check in with your child periodically after the separation and allow her room to ask questions. If your daughter does not have questions, keep prodding. Chances are she is withdrawing, feeling scared, lonely, insecure, or worried. Don’t hesitate to take her to a counselor to help her sort through her own feelings about the separating. Sometimes just a few sessions can help a child work through fears and emotions.
Elizabeth Oates is a wife, mother of three, and an author, blogger, and speaker who encourages, inspires, and equips a new generation of women seeking a deeper relationship with Christ. She is a cliché Generation Xer from a broken home who once searched for purpose and significance apart from Jesus Christ. Today she devotes her life to spreading the message that we are not defined by our past; our God is bigger than our broken family trees and stronger than the sins that weigh us down. She graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and co-founded Project Restoration Ministry. To learn more about Elizabeth or receive her weekly blog, please visit ElizabethOates.com