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If you and your husband have decided to divorce, the kindest and most important thing you can do for your children is to tell them before you separate. It won't be easy to tell them that their father will be moving out, but they'll feel comforted by your honesty and reassured that you are keeping their concerns and interests in mind. Children get very frightened of being lost in the shuffle at this time. Here's advice on how to offer your children support and time to prepare for your separation.
When to Tell Them
If your children are five or younger, it's best to tell them a day or two before you separate. For school-age children, a few days to a week before will help them assimilate what you say. Adolescents often know their parents' plans weeks or even months ahead because they are often the confidants of one or both parents. But they should be told at least two weeks before the separation so they'll have the opportunity to discuss it with their best friends and think about how it will affect them and what lies ahead for all of you.
What if your spouse leaves or files for divorce suddenly? In this case, you can apologize to your children and admit candidly that you just learned of it, that you want to keep them informed and that had you known in advance you would have told them. This is no time to equivocate.
How to Tell Them
The best thing you can do is gather the children round during a quiet time that's not in the midst of normal activities like watching television, talking with a friend on the phone or doing homework. Tell them that you've decided to separate, what that means and when it will happen. Again, your goal is to assure your children that you're thinking about their well-being. Talk simply and slowly, and keep in mind that they'll remember forever what you are saying. They'll also remember what you don't say. Parents tend to be so worried about telling their children about the divorce that they rush through the process. You may want to get it over with so you can feel relieved. But if you fail to fully engage each child's attention, you'll miss an important opportunity to lay the foundation for the future of your post-divorce family.