Ask Maggie: How Do I Tell My Kids Their Father and I Are Separating?

'Most importantly reassure them that they are so very loved'

December 3, 2019

Dear Maggie,

My husband and I have had an awful relationship for years, and we have finally decided to separate. In my heart of hearts, I know this is a good thing and I believe we will all be better for it. He’s a good dad, though, and I don’t know how in the world we are going to tell our kids, who are 4 and 7. Any advice?

Dear Heart of Hearts,  

Fly away, friend. The kids will be their own version of okay. I promise. But more importantly, you will be okay. The truth is that they see the “awful” no matter how well you try to cover it up. Kids need to see the gorgeousness of relationships and there’s ALWAYS still time to show them that.

How to tell such young children about the new set up?

Honestly, I don’t think a one-time sit-down announcement is the right thing for every family, though sometimes it is necessary. You know your kids best and when my then-husband and I had to give "the separation talk," I knew my kids best too. We told our kids -- who were similar ages to yours -- that Mommy and Daddy needed a time out from each other. It wasn’t the best, but it was the best we could do at the moment to explain it in a way that they somewhat understood. We didn’t answer questions about a potential divorce, though they did ask. We just handled things moment by moment and assured them they were so loved, that things would be different but still okay, and that they’d still see each of us almost all of the time.  

Also, use kids' books as a resource. I had TONS of books that showed all kinds of ways that families lived, including families that were separated or divorced. All of those books were opportunities to frame our family situation as a new normal. 

I also kept any conversations and changes very positive and upbeat. I never made it a sad situation. I didn’t cry. I wouldn’t allow them to be burdened by my emotions regarding the situation. And at times, that meant I flat out lied. They didn't need to know all of the details. 

If I could do it over? If I was given some time to make this take place over a small period of time? I’d have done it more strategically and slowly. I would have begun by introducing the topic of two household families. There will be kids in their classrooms who live with two household families. Your child will not be the only one. If you know a family in your community who has two households, ask your child about them. Let the conversation naturally flow. If you are able to, try to connect with that mom! Growing your support system is important during this time. 

However, you are the one who decides what's right for your kids. But keep it simple, share it on their emotional level, and -- most importantly -- reassure them that they are so very loved.

I will be thinking of you. There are new, wonderful, gorgeous things coming for all of you.



Looking for parenting advice? See more of our Ask Maggie columns!


Looking for kid-friendly events near you? 

Check your local Macaroni Kid calendar for all your family fun!