Explaining why parents separate or divorce

The break-up of parental relationships is confusing and upsetting for children, and their first question is often, “Why?” It is a question that, if left unanswered, can create a lot of worry and anxiety in children. When they are left to wonder why their parents are splitting up, children often blame themselves – did they do something wrong?

Telling your children the reason(s) for the separation or divorce is, of course, up to you and the other parent. Many factors must be taken into consideration, including their age, maturity, level of understanding, and the sensitivity of the issues at hand.

You may want to explain the difficulty you had in deciding to end the relationship, and that you tried very hard to fix the relationship problems. While some parents explain why their relationship is ending when they tell the children about the separation or divorce, others may not be ready to discuss the reasons for their decision. Emotions might be too raw or there may be intensely personal issues that should not be shared with children.

It must be stressed, however, that if you cannot – or are not willing to – give your children reasons for your decision to separate or divorce, you must tell them that they are not to blame for the break-up. This will help prevent children from feeling guilty about their parents splitting up.

You can explain that the problems in the relationship are adult problems between you and the other parent. Emphasize to the children that the two of you are ending your adult relationship, but will continue to be loving and supportive parents.

Children will benefit from reading the guides on this website that are written just for them. It may also be useful for parents to read them. In the kids’ guide, children learn about why some people decide to separate or divorce, and more. Teens can also read about why couples break-up and more in the teen guide. Both guides make the following points very clear to children:

  • They are not the reason for their parents splitting up; kids do not cause separation or divorce.
  • They are not at fault.
  • They are not alone; thousands of kids get through their parents' separation or divorce every year, and they will too.
  • Parents divorce each other, not their children.
  • Your parents are yours forever.