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I am separating from my spouse, and we have decided to tell our children, who are between 5 and 8 years old.

Should we break the news when they are all together (eg in the living room), or to each one separately (eg in each one's bedroom)?

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    Make sure that wherever you tell them, you focus less on how you you and your spouse feel about each other and more on how you both love them and how you'll each spend time with them. – Player One Mar 31 '17 at 12:54
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I am not sure there is a right answer, but to me, it would make sense to do it together.

The reasoning for this is the following:

  • I feel it would be better to have both of you present for the discussion; this will hopefully set a signal that not one of you will be gone from your kids lives, but you will still be their parents.
  • Now, whoever you tell first will be in his or her room with you quiet long, there may be crying, there may be need to talk. What about the others during that time? And after you have moved to the next one, what happens if a question pops into the first ones mind that he needs answered NOW?
  • Also, how many kids are there? If you have three, you face the fact that you have one kid "in the know", one you are focusing on because you are telling them at that moment... and what about the third? Isolating the first to know in his room after that seems harsh, demanding him not to tell his or her sibling yet even more so. That means any third (or fourth...) will will end up wondering what is going on, or hearing the news from his or her sibling.

So, I would say: all together is easier for all concerned... hopefully including you, not having to do the same hard talk several times.

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    They will already be concerned about any of their parents leaving the family, telling them one by one would give more signs of "splitting the family". – mgarciaisaia Mar 31 '17 at 17:57
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Telling them separately means you end up telling them slightly different stories. By letting one of them know first you also send a signal about who is more important. Both of these are things to avoid.

Get everyone on the same page first by telling them together, and allowing them to ask questions and hear the answers together. There will still be time afterwards (hours or a day later) for them to ask questions in private.

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    +1 Plus, if you have more than two and tell one first, they might tell the others before you do. Then you're guaranteed to end up with different stories and explanations going around. – Jeutnarg Mar 31 '17 at 19:14
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Please make sure that you and your co parent agree to what you will say. Be a united front. If there is zero chance you will get back together, please be honest -- but in the kindest way you can find. Telling them together means no one knows anything someone else does not. They all got the same info at the same time. You can and will answer questions from any of them when asked. There is no favouritism.

It seems to me from my experience with family counselling that the worst thing anyone does is to pit one parent against the other. You text and make sure both parents agree on decisions. This is the one area where your disagreements need to be completely separate from the kids.

Sit them down. Tell them that you love them and that you love or like each other (if that has any truth in it) and wish each other the best -- health, happiness and so on, but that you are simply no longer wishing to be married to each other. Tell them that children cannot be divorced. You will always be their parents and you will always love them and put them first -- as you always have.

All the other ideas mentioned are good. Agree that for birthdays, you'll meet in neutral territory (if that is necessary) as family. Then be fair with visitation. What worked for my own family was to have residences in walking distance of each other. Our daughter does one week and one weekend with each parent (and attends the school in our area -- but we as parents cooperate for any reason. Our child is the priority over all other priorities.

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    This is interesting to me. Seriously. I fully understand if someone would not take this advice, but I truly do not understand why two people thought it was bad. Teach me, please. I do this for a living so your insight would be extremely helpful. – WRX Apr 1 '17 at 13:40
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    You've got a great deal of general advice about handling divorce, but your answer to the specific question of "should we tell them one at a time, or all together?" is buried rather well amongst the rest of it. I wouldn't be surprised if the down-voters over-looked it. – Mark Apr 1 '17 at 18:43
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    Most likely the downvoters are unwilling to admit that divorce is bad for the kids, as it inevitably is. – Warren Dew Apr 1 '17 at 20:08
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    @Willow - Assuming you want honest feedback, an answer on SE should primarily answer the OP's question. The top answer(s) gives advice that concentrates on the OP's direct question and makes no assumptions. You gave a lot of advice that answered 'questions' that the OP did not ask (e.g. pitting one parent against the other, etc.) There are meta posts about that, if you want to read more. (I thought you taught autistic children?) – anongoodnurse Apr 1 '17 at 20:43
  • @anongoodnurse I am a retired teacher. I am still counseling. Thanks, I appreciate the feedback. – WRX Apr 1 '17 at 21:56
3

It isn't too likely that any of them in the age range you mention will be able to understand the implications of your divorce. I can't imagine a scenario in which telling them separately makes any sense, so I may not be the best person to answer this (since you apparently can envision such a scenario). You should discuss with your soon-to-be-ex what you are going to say. Basically, it should go along the lines that mommy and daddy love you but we have decided it is best for everybody (dubious but kids won't know that) that we are going to live in different homes. You will live with (mom?) but (daddy) will want to spend as much time with you as he can, too. Let them ask questions, and as the days go by be open to further questions. I'd advise giving them the same talk at least 3 times over the course of several days or weeks. What kids will want to know is how it affects them, so as much as you know, tell them what visitation will be. There will be plenty of time to talk one-on-one if one of the kids needs some time alone with either of you. (Probably a good idea to do a one-on-one activity (out of the home?) with each of them, as well as a single parent thing with all of them.

2

No matter which way you spin it, the news will hurt. I would suggest you inform them together so that they have each other to lean on for support, but that's really the only difference between the approaches you've mentioned. I see a far more important issue you'll have to deal with: the fallout.

When a child witnesses consequences like a separation coming out of a series of human mistakes (and even very serious mistakes are, ultimately, human mistakes), they may learn the unintended lesson that their own mistakes are unforgivable and are a reflection of who they are, as opposed to a bump in the road of learning. This is a very toxic mindset and can lead to social isolation, shame, addiction, depression, and a world of hurt that lasts far longer than your separation disclosure.

To help your children process this, you should do your best to provide them with a safe environment in which to make mistakes, even serious mistakes, and learn from them. An excellent way of doing this is modeling that level of honesty and self-awareness for them yourself: when you make mistakes, even serious ones, let your children know, let them know it was a mistake, and show them how you 1) use the resultant guilt (not shame) to learn a valuable lesson and improve yourself, and 2) dispose of the shame without going into denial.

If you can learn to build an open, honest, vulnerable, and forgiving relationship with your children, they will seek out similar relationships with others and they will learn how to prevent toxic relationships from happening in the first place and how to deal with cases when serious mistakes are made in healthy relationships.

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    I would add that telling them together means no one knows anything the other does not. There are no secrets here. – WRX Mar 31 '17 at 16:16

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