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Dealing with Divorce and Separation

Posted on 23 January 2014

“One day at a time – this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past, for it is gone: and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering.”

~ Ida Scott Taylor 1820-1915, Author


Despite divorce and separation being on the increase around the world, parents often feel at a loss when searching for practical support. They also feel overwhelmed, confused, afraid, resentful, or completely frozen in panic about how to handle the changes in their family’s way of life. This time of year especially can often present anxieties for separated or divorced families.


Divorce isn’t about winners and losers. It’s about working out a way to handle the separation with dignity and compassion and minimising the disruption to your children emotionally.  So let’s look at some of the numerous approaches and strategies for making the experience of divorce as positive and healthy as possible.

Telling the Kids


I’ve worked with many parents going through divorce and one of the main worries is how to tell their children about what is going to happen and what to actually say to them.  Children naturally fear that they’ll lose one of their parents in divorce or that their parents will abandon them. They also fear the changes and disruptions that divorce inevitably brings to their family. Children often blame themselves. When a marriage becomes troubled, a couple often relies on old habits of interacting, which lead to fights rather than solutions. If those old habits didn’t lead to constructive solutions during the marriage, they’ll surely reap no better results during the divorce. Bitter fights in the divorce courts often stem from these old ways of handling differences. You may not have been a united front while married, but you and your partner must take this opportunity for the good of your children to work together.


 Here are a couple of recommendations to work out together:


Key messages to convey to your children


Think about the way you want to handle their insecurity, their need to express their feelings and their questions.


You need to consider their need for security – their need to know and feel reassured that you will both still always be their parents and be there to support, nurture, guide and love them


They need the opportunity to express themselves and their feelings in whatever way they feel able. This could be anything from extreme anger to complete silence, denial, bravado or pleading and you need to be prepared to accept whatever comes up and reassure them.


 You will need to weigh up whether you tell each child on their own, or all together or a combination. You need to make a joint decision as to which way both of you feel will be the best for your children and for you as their parents.


If you can manage to speak to them together, this will give an opportunity for them to see that you are not blaming each other and that they don’t have to take sides and that you are both still there for them.


Think about your own emotions.


Will you be able to talk to your children without getting into further conflict between the two of you?


If you feel that you can then try to think through together the sort of questions your children will be likely to ask. Questions like “Will we still see you and spend time with you? Who will take us to football training?” “Who will we live with and where will we live?” “Will we have to change school?” “Will we still see Grandma?”


  • How will you answer them?
  • How you will explain that at the moment you don’t have all the answers but still reassure them that you will have more clarity and answers soon and they don’t need to worry?


Managing your emotions


Like most things in life, divorce is a process not an event. How you view the process is very important. If you see divorce as a negative, painful, angry, aggressive, guilt-laden time, then it will be exactly that. If you see it as a major life crisis that can be handled in a positive way with dignity and a step towards a new life with new opportunities, then it will be so.


If you appear calm and in control most of the time, your children feel more secure. Be realistic and honest with your children, but also find a safe outlet for you to let off steam, cry, rant, and vent your frustrations just don’t do it in front of your children.


You are a role model and how you handle this major event is a blueprint for how they handle stressful situations in their lives.



Honesty is the key


Getting your child to talk openly about a divorce or separation is rarely easy. As a parent, you must create opportunities to find time to hear about how your child feels. Children have their own views about what is happening to them, and bottling up their feelings may cause problems in the future. Their moodiness and angry outbursts may be cries to be heard.


Find some quiet, uninterrupted time to talk through your child’s feelings and explain, in terms appropriate to his age and maturity, what is actually happening. Keeping children in the picture helps them feel secure and safe.


Don’t hide the truth from your child because you feel you should protect him. When children feel they don’t matter, they start to imagine the worst. They often then start to blame themselves for what’s happening.


Grief and sorrow


Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a pioneer in the hospice movement, first described the five stages of grieving more than three decades ago. Although her work is often applied to the handling of death and dying, her stages can serve as a good map for recovering from a major trauma such as divorce. Kübler-Ross’s stages can be described as follows:


  • Denial: ‘This divorce isn’t happening to me. It’s all a misunderstanding. It’s just a midlife crisis. We can work it out.’
  • Anger and resentment:How can he/she do this to me? What did I ever do to deserve this? This is not fair!’
  • Bargaining: ‘If you’ll stay, I’ll change’ or ‘If I agree to do it [money, childrearing, sex, whatever] your way, can we get back together?’
  • Depression: ‘This is really happening. I can’t do anything about it. I don’t think I can bear it.’
  • Acceptance: ‘Okay, this is how it is. I’d rather accept it and move on than wallow in the past.’




  • Most GP surgeries have an in-house counselling service where you can access up to 6 sessions on the NHS.
  •  CAMHS.  Your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Team.  Your GP will refer you.
  • Many schools have a counsellor. 
  • Resolution Parenting after Parting.www.resolution.org.uk/parentingafterparting
  • A Kidspace runs workshops in London for children,  www.akidspace.co.uk
  • Divorce Support Group runs one day workshops and 10 week local support groups and individual sessions. www.divorcesupportgroup.co.uk  

The Expert

Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the  famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.