Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Easing kids through a divorce means doing a lot of listening
Nowhere: I am going to be leaving my wife. There are good reasons, but I would rather not give them here. I will try my best to be fair and keep it amicable, but she has in my view left me no choice but to end our marriage.
I cannot afford a therapist in addition to an attorney. Do you know of any resources I can use to guide me in making this as easy as I can on my daughters? I plan to seek joint custody, but they will most likely be living with my wife during the separation.
Carolyn: If the reason you have "no choice" is that your wife is abusive or otherwise punitive, then I can see why the lawyer comes first.
But if you don't expect serious resistance to an equitable settlement, then consider mediation vs. lawyers and put your money toward a really good family therapist. If it's not realistic that therapy can repair your marriage, it could still prepare you to guide your kids through its dissolution.
As for making this as easy as possible for your daughters:
(1) Keep showing up for them. It will be painful at times, but it's a pain you have to walk through, not avoid.
(2) Be honest. You can't tell them everything, but you also can't lie.
(3) Prepare answers beforehand to any and all questions they may ask you, especially the awkward ones.
That will help you accomplish No. 2 without telling a panic lie or throwing your wife under the bus.
(4) Listen to them. It's a natural impulse to want to keep their worlds and your conversations as normal as possible. However, having a parent move out is not normal. They will want to talk about what's happening, so let them. They will also not want to talk about what's happening sometimes, so let them do that, too.
Meet them where they are, which means, again, listen.
(5) Treat your wife with care and courtesy. Until they're mature, kids see themselves as extensions of their parents.
If you and your wife start treating each other like vermin, you're sending your kids a message that they're roughly 50 percent vermin. You can't make their mom be nice to you, but you can be nice to her.
Anonymous: Re: Nowhere: Don't be too specific if they ask the reason you are separating. Kids should not have the baggage of knowing their mother/parent is lazy, a cheater, can't manage money, a murderer, what have you.
A simple statement, which was in essence what my father said to me, will do: "Your mother and I have grown apart and realize we don't want to be together. It has nothing to do with you, because you are the joy in our lives, but sometimes it's better for a family if parents aren't together if they don't want to be. We'll always be there for you as much as we can and will always love you."
My mother didn't live this statement, but my father did, and I will always think better of him for it.
Carolyn: "Murderer" requires separate consideration — but I'm with you on the rest, thanks. Nothing resonates like a firsthand account.