Advice for How to Explain Parents' Separation to Kids, Ages 4 and 6 - Aspen,CO

Updated on March 15, 2009
L.S. asks from Aspen, CO
11 answers

Just a simple, but painful question: What is the best way to explain my separation from my kids' father to a nearly 4 year old daughter and 6 year old son? We will be sharing parenting responsibilities with the kids spending 50% of their time with their dad (who is staying in the house) and 50% of time with me in a new apartment. We obviously want the kids to feel as comfortable, safe and loved as possible during this difficult time.

Thank you so much for any thoughts you have! And P.S., this is a situation with addiction over many years, and still denial, which is why I feel like I have to get away from the relationship even though he is a wonderful father.

P.S. I have received several responses from people asking why I would leave my home and allow my husband to remain there with the kids. I have asked my husband to leave, but since he is denial about his addiction (alcohol and prescription drugs) he refuses. Without calling the police and asking the to escort him out and then probably getting a restraining order (all of which I imagine would be extremely harmful to the kids, and would eliminate any chance of our family getting back together once he has dealt with his addictions) I can't physically remove him from the house. This is why I had to leave, and believe me I am feeling the repercussions but it was the only way I could stay sane and healthy enough for my kids. He also is demanding at least 50% time with them and again my hands are tied. If someone out there can give concrete advice about exactly HOW I could force an unwilling husband and part owner of the house out and also HOW I could enforce an 80/20 split against his will, I would appreciate that. But what has not been particularly helpful so far is the judgment from Mamas who do not know enough about my situation to comment. Constructive advice only please!

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answers from Denver on

so sorry about the tough situation. There are some wonderful books available. For kids this age, I like Dinosaur Divorce, by Marc Brown (He writes the Arthur Books). It explains what divorce means and how kids may feel with very expressive pictures.

Speaking of Divorce by Roberta Beyer, J.D., and Kent Winchester, J.D. is for you to read and helps you understand best how to talk to kids of different ages about divorce.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Provo on

I have been divorced two times so I am the last to judge but I do want you to know that I do support your decision. I have many friends who do not separate (mainly because of emphasis placed on parents to stay married because of society.) They do not realize it, but they are hurting the children more by staying in the unhappy relationship. You have taken the first step and I praise that. In the state of UT, a person must take a class to help deal with the issues of divorce on a child. I enjoyed it so much. The class teaches that the two parents can be united to raise the children even in different houses. Just be sure to tell the children that mommy and daddy can not be together anymore but will still be an important part of their lives. Lots of hugs and kisses are very important. I have a daughter that is 18 years old and she has gained a lot of self-esteem from the problems of the past. Trials are what make us strong!! She is going to Oregon State University in the fall and has a 3.98 GPA and got all her school paid for. I am so proud of her! I just keep telling her to learn from the mistakes that I have made. Your kids are younger, but still need reinforcement from you that they are great. I have a younger boy (5 yrs) that was from my recent marriage. He is very smart and knows how to explain what he is feeling. We can work through it if we know what the issue is. The class taught that a lot of kids can not do this. You need to try to encourage this. Some kids just take longer. My little boy says, "Mom since you aren't married to dad, will you marry me?" Just keep smiling and remember to keep humor in your family. Things are tough, but everything works itself out.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Great Falls on

L., this is the hardest thing in the world for you and your youngsters.The best thing is to sit them close to you and tell them that you and Daddy love them very much, but you need to be apart to be happy. Just keep reminding them that you love them and this has nothing to do with them. Children tend to think it's their fault when parents separate. Just make sure they know that it's not. Hope this helps, you're in my prayers P.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

Please read this with a gentle tone of voice from me.

Why exactly are YOU leaving to an apartment? I'm thinking if HE has the behavior problem that's breaking up the family, HE should be the one to leave. You and your children should stay home to underline that fact. Daddy needs to get help with something really big...SOO big that he needs to be away from us for awhile...instead of, I'm leaving Daddy because he as a problem...KWIM?? For the children, appearance will carry a TON of weight.

I agree with the question another mother has about the 50/50 arrangement with your children if he has an addiction. If that is the case, it would seem better to either keep him close so you can be there for your children than to walk out and allow them to be neglected by their parents--by Daddy becuase he's unavailable, and you because you're absent. Ya know?? Of course, I am NOT making an accusation...I'm just making a point for you to weigh from what information I have. Now, if you're talking about pornagraphy, it's a bit different; however, if it's as bad as some men have where they lock themselves into their room for hours upon hours while their children are doing who knows what around the house--the point is the same.

I really believe the children's main "HOME" and support should come from the house/home they're used to, the one they've been living in.

Since you're hubby is the one in denial and willing to allow the demise of his family...HE IS the one who should walk!!!...because that house is for the family and HE'S the one breaking commitments and promises, NOT YOU.

OK...backing off of that...with the same though as above, if you could stay in the house yourself, you could then tell the children that Daddy's going away for awhile to get some big help on something he can't be home for...kinda like going to the hospital but we love him very much and will pray for him to get the right kind of help and that he'll be able to do well with it and come back home.

I'm sorry for your difficulty and pain due to just sucks. HUGS for you!!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boise on

You have two options. If he is a "good father" as you say, you can stay in the marriage until the kids are grown so that you have control over what happens at all times with your kids OR you can leave. If you choose to leave, it is in the best interest of your kids that you go for full custody and request that your children only have supervised visitation with their dad until he has been clean and sober for AT LEAST one year. If you don't do this, you will be putting your children in danger while they are visiting their dad because you know your husband has an addiction problem. There is no easy, good way to explain all of this mess to your children, but you can explain it by telling the truth without bad mouthing their father. You can tell them that you are doing this to PROTECT them because Daddy has an alcohol and drug problem, and you really HOPE Daddy will get better so you can be a family again. I wish you well, and hope your husband chooses a sober life instead of losing his family. Take care.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boise on

My heart goes out to you.

My only thought is if he has an addiction, maybe you should reconsider the 50/50 arrangement and try to have them most of the time with you, and stay in the house and have him move out instead of you. I think 50/50 sounds too unstable for the kids and they will never feel like they have their own home, just visiting two houses. It is your husband's fault, not yours or your kids. And I worry that his addiction will not really help him be such a great father. I don't know what kind of addiction it is, but whatever it is, I just think maybe praying a bit more about your kids and yourself to see if as heartbreaking as it is, maybe they shouldn't be around him half the time.





answers from Denver on

My first concern is there is an addiction involved however children will be with their dad 50% of the time?? That doesn't make sense. Even someone seemingly the best parent with an addiction until that was addressed I would be concerned having the child exposed that much. Anyway, another topic I am sure and I didn't get a feel for what you were directing as far as what addiction!! I would however have him leave and remind him that he needs to seek help for himself. They need their home and they need more of a 20/80 split right now if their is addiction involved. 50/50 when they are in school is VERY hard on kids. I see that the kids I watch here at home. They need one main consistent environment and visiting dad on weekends provides just that. They need to be at the same place as often as possible.

So, I am a single mom, two kids 4 and 7. My ex moved out of state and we divorced when they were 1 and 4. It wasn't easy. I can tell you from my mistakes, be honest, to the point they can handle. Do it together, stand united in your parenting at all times. Make sure they understand the loss of the marriage is not the loss of their parents in their lives. Explaining that sometimes problems are so big that they cannot be figured out. That space and time sometimes can help it. That you both will be there for them and that you will do whatever you can to keep life as they know it. Never bad mouth the other and they don't need the explanations of the addiction in the mix right now either. That is something as they get older you will need to address. Consider a good play therapist for the kids too, to work through what they are going to feel and learn to communicate feelings.

Kids are amazing. They are resilient but at all times they need to feel secure, protected and as much of their daily routine needs to remain the same as much as possible.
I would say 50/50 shared custody can create tension for them too as they never feel really stable somewhere. I am not sure why you are leaving the family home, not the father if he has the problem with addiction. Just because you want the relationship to end doesn't mean you have to leave. I think having dad involved in their lives is essential, however they need a strong sense of stabliity. Bouncing back and forth doesn't always create that as much as just seeing dad every other weekend. It is hard to say as I am not in your shoes, I am on parenting duty 24/7.

I just protected my kids too much. I didn't want them to see me cry or worry. I wish I had talked to them more. Of course my son was way too young but with my daughter I made mistakes. She created her own worries and felt uncomfortable talking about it as she grew. I took my daughter to a play therapist as she had some residual behavior problems from the changes and we learned a great deal there. It opened up a whole new way of parenting for me and helped us both to learn to trust and talk to one another. Answer any and all questions directly with them. Be conscious of their age however be honest to what they can manage to handle.

I am all for if it is time to let the relationship to go and you have exhausted every possible way to fix it, then ultimately it is best for your kids. Kids need stress free living, they need parents happy and if you show them you are okay, then they will be too, promise. Kids just need happy parents and if divorcing is the only way then they will adjust. It takes time, there will be behavior changes to watch for but if they have a consistent routine and you are open with them it is easier on them. Let them know they can come to you anytime with anything. Let them know you love them and that will never change. Keep the same schedules for them at both homes. HUGS, God bless you on your journey and peace be with you! :)



answers from Colorado Springs on

Just wishing you the best of luck. I'm sure this is terribly hard on you and I'm sorry for your pain.



answers from Salt Lake City on


Wishing you all the best in this time of trial for you.
Your children are at a stage where they don't understand what separation means. They simply know that one parent is not as active in their lives. Encourage them to talke and express their feelings. Books can assist with this.

Set aside "child time" each day. You may experience their children going through feelings of grieve at the sudden absence of their father, especially if he is a wonderful father. As much as possible let their father connect with the children. Even if that is a phone call several times each week.

Allow more unhurried time every day. Assure your children that their father loves them very much. Tell your children they will be safe.

Your six year old may be beginning to understand what divorce is, especially if he has friends that have divorced parents. He will naturally hope that his father and you will come back together.

The most important thing that you can do for your children at this time is to stress that they have nothing to do with the separation! In the grief process it is a natural reaction to blame ourselves for the situation.

With my whole heart, C.



answers from Denver on

I'm sorry you're having to deal with this. Such tough decisions to have to make! I hope it all works out the way you'd like it to.

This isn't about how to talk to the kids, but... I have a girlfriend who is a social worker and she once gave some advice to a friend of ours who was splitting w/her hubby.

It'd probably be a good idea to talk to a lawyer. My friend had said that if you leave the home (especially if you leave your kids there, even 1/2 time), your husband's lawyer can argue that you abandoned your kids! Obviously not the case, but as much as it stinks to have to get a lawyer involved right away I'd at least look into it so you can make sure you've protected yourself and your kids.

I don't know for sure that this is true, but it's something you should be aware of as a possibility.

Best of luck to you! Hang in there!!



answers from Boise on

Good for you on being smart and getting out of a bad situation. I have a similar situation, my ex husband had a very bad sexual & alcohol addiction and when I found out about everything I was afraid for my health and couldnt stay in the relationship. I have a 4 year old and 1 1/2 year old and it has been very hard to deal with the hurt of my girls. He was also a wonderful father but his addiction was more important than his family. I went to a child psychologist and she said to tell my kids that both of us love them but we were going to live in different houses. She said to make it a point to let them know the love we had for them would never change no matter what. We have been apart for almost a year now and my oldest daughter still askes when we are going to go back and live with daddy. Dealing with the kids is the hardest part for me because they are innocent in all of this but yet they will be affected the most. Good luck to you!

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