Dear Savvy Auntie,

My husband and I have been married for five years but have decided to separate. Between us, we have nine nieces and nephews who range in age from 3 - 16. We're wondering the best way to talk to them about what's happening. Any advice?

Separating Auntie

Dear Separating Auntie,

Separating is always difficult even when it is for the best. First order of business is to speak to the parents of the children; they may want to tell their children in their own way. Secondly, the three year old's understanding is very limited and their concerns will be very ego-centric and practical…what does this mean to me about:  presents, visits and can I have a cookie now. In contrast the sixteen year old may be thinking about relationships and how they work or what it takes to make one work.

If possible, it is best for you and your husband to speak to the children together. You should try to agree not to blame each other and to begin with a simple statement, such as, we have been having grown up problems, we have tried to work them out and now we decided to live separately. We will each see you separately (if you have a definite date give this information). Then pause, this may be the most difficult part. There may be questions of why, how and when. For the children above five you can say it is hard for kids to understand grown up problems. There may be some emotional moments, yours and/or theirs. You can talk about it being sad even a little scary because it will be different than it has been. Allow for tears even anger. Hugs and  “ I understands” will go a long way. Assure them that you love them and that will never, ever change. If you can make a definite plan for the immediate future it will be reassuring. Be sure to encourage them to talk to you whenever they have a question, a worry or any feelings to share.

There is a very good book named "The Boys and Girls Book on Divorce” - you might want to take a look at it and suggest it to the children’s parents.

I wish you the best,
Natalie Robinson Garfield

This Dear Savvy Auntie letter was first published in September 2008. We have updated it and republished it now - June 29, 2016

Homepage photo: Kasia Bialasiewicz

Content Rating