How to respond to your Child when they ask delicate questions – especially about your separation or divorce?

What do you say when your child asks why you separated?!

Understandably, when faced with this scenario, you want to be truthful and not lie, or be dishonest. A difficult one indeed! But having worked with children and young people who come to me for counselling, feeling very confused and somewhat overwhelmed by the different responses they hear, I have a suggestion. Children will  want to know why you are no longer together and why wouldn’t they? They can invest of lot of time trying to get to ‘the truth’.

The old adage ‘there are two sides to every story’, certainly applies to separated parents. Particularly over the passage of time, it’s highly unlikely that both versions of events or ‘what really happened’ will ever collate.

Young people want to believe both their parents but if their stories are conflicting – what then?

It would be best for them if you are able to agree on an appropriate version without airing any critical accusations. Too much ‘adult’ or ‘age-inappropriate’ information i.e. affairs, addictions, financial situation, etc .,. should not be shared in this context.  Try to keep this version as neutral as possible otherwise your child will spend their time trying to filter out the essence of the truth or will be prone to blaming.

This may lead to problems such as lack of concentration at school, getting easily distracted and overwhelmed. Their head is full of information that they don’t really need and could burden them to the point that they worry unnecessarily. They may start distancing themselves – perhaps in not believing one parent – and sadly being put in a position of feeling they need to ‘choose’ a version or even, tragically, a parent.

This probably applies to most questions children ask about the process of divorce, the courts, and what will happen next? If as parents you can find a common ‘truth’ to offer as a response, there will be less pressure on your child to feel as if they are being asked to ‘take sides’. By not creating two conflicting stories there is less likelihood of creating the kind of environment in which children feel confused, torn and stuck in middle.