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'In truth I was scared of the kids' reactions': One mum on navigating a divorce with three young children

The guilt of putting your kids through the turmoil of separation goes deep, writes Kate Gunn.

Image: Shutterstock

THE WATERS ARE deep and dark and your boat is small and broken. But you have children that you need to bring to safety – to somewhere quiet and secure.

How will you navigate through to the other side when you have no map and only an internal compass for guidance?

My husband and I were married for almost 10 years before separating in 2014.  Our children were five, seven and nine at the time.

Telling your children that their parents are splitting up is one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have.

Here are these innocent, beautiful little people that you love more than anything in the world, the ones you would do anything for, the ones you would fight tooth and nail to protect – and you are about to inflict great pain on them.

How do you get through something like that?

The big chat 

shutterstock_260892776 (1) Source: Shutterstock/ESB Professional

There is lots of advice out there on having that initial conversation. Experts advise to try to have the talk all together, don’t place blame on any one party, tell the children it’s not their fault, focus on the things that will stay the same, explain to them what will change… But you will have to listen to your own gut on those ones.

I never told the children it wasn’t their fault, because I didn’t want to even begin to place that idea into the heads. They didn’t seem to be blaming themselves, so why would I even bring up the concept with them?

We tried to be honest in an age appropriate way, but in reality may have skirted around the issue a little too much.

In truth I was scared of their reaction – not sure that I could take on more pain at that moment.

A pain in my heart

We told them that their parents would be living in separate houses and would be trying some time apart from each other. We explained as best we could where they would be living and what the arrangement would be. 

But that conversation was only the raising of the anchor. The journey to the other side would be long and slow and often sad. 

‘I have a pain in my heart’ my daughter would say when she lay in bed at night, with big emotions tumbling around her. I would lie beside her, stroking her hair, my own heart bursting with guilt and sadness. I couldn’t take away her pain, only care for her through it.

‘I just want a normal family’ they would whisper. 

Taking out my own stress on the kids

shutterstock_664031230 Source: Shutterstock

‘I miss Daddy when I am here and I miss you when I am with him’ they still tell me, even five years later. Each statement is another cut. They are messages of sadness that I can’t really reply back to.

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My only response is to smother them with all the love I have in me instead. But it wasn’t easy at the start. 

When you are dealing with your own pain and stress it’s hard to take more emotion. At times the storms would rage. They would act up and I would thunder with and against them. I didn’t always succeed in giving them what they needed, but I tried my best with what I had – because that’s what parents do isn’t it? 

The parental guilt goes deep

The guilt of putting your children through the turmoil of separation goes deep. Every tantrum, every bad day, every quiet pause, every tear, every issue – the first thought is – ‘Is this because of the break-up?’.

But ALL children have tantrums, bad days and quiet times. We can’t continue to blame ourselves and our family situation for everything forevermore. 

So keep the communication lines with your children open, keep talking, keep loving, and seek help when it’s needed.

Do the best that you can do and of course never bad mouth your child’s other parent. Before long you will have land in sight again, and you will realise that your internal compass was the only real guide you ever needed after all.

Untying the Knot: How To Consciously Uncouple In The Real World by Kate Gunn (Orpen Press) is now available in all good bookshops and on Amazon.

About the author:

Kate Gunn  / Author of Untying The Knot

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