One of the most difficult conversations parents will ever have with their children is the one in which they tell the children that they have decided to no longer live together. If one parent had no idea that the marriage was in trouble until his/her spouse surprised her with a sudden announcement to end the marriage, the other parent may feel betrayed and shocked. If the parents had been in marriage counseling for months, they may be less surprised, but are still likely to feel extremely upset, disappointed, and angry. In her excellent book, Divorce How to Tell the Kids( Green Light Press, Montreal: 2015) Vikki Stark provides parents with background and recommendation for how to speak with children about their parents’ breakup.
In 15 short and concise chapters, Vikki Stark writes about topics ranging from Understanding Your Own Emotions to Reducing the Risk of Trauma. For example, she describes the importance of not undermining the other parent. “We have a right arm and a left arm, and they’re both important…Your child’s identity includes both her mom and her dad—her right arm and her left arm. Even if one arm (or parent) does not have the most stellar of qualities, she needs both of you. Please permit her to love both of you.” (page 15)
Each chapter concludes with a few sentences labelled TAKEAWAY. The TAKEAWAY contains important ideas as well as practical advice. For instance, one chapter talks about a planning meeting; a planning meeting is a time for both parents to meet and decide how to tell the children. The TAKEAWAY includes: “Don’t try to discuss too much...” and “Keep the focus on the plans for your child, and don’t see the discussion as an excuse to attack or entreat your spouse….”
When parents are unable to control their emotions, a planning meeting may not be possible. However, parents may be able to plan what they tell their children with the help of a third party. Planning how to tell the children is an appropriate topic for mediation. Sheila Russian will not take sides, but will help people discuss when to tell the children and how they will explain the separation.
Vikki Stark describes the family following the parents’ separation as, “a binuclear family with two homes.” The children are likely to spend time with each parent in a different home. Nonetheless, the children will continue to have a strong, loving, and secure bond with each parent.