How to Talk About Splitting Up

Right at the top of the list to say: We will work hard to make sure you will keep your relationship with both parents. It’s not your fault.

Teenagers, just like younger children, tend to blame themselves when things go wrong. When parents split up, it can be hard for young people to understand that the parents are solely responsible – it can feel unsafe to think badly of the people they depend on. Be absolutely clear with them that it is not their fault.

Your teenager will also want to hear:

  1. We will never stop loving you, even if our feelings for each other have changed.
  2. We know this will be hard for you, and we are sorry – we never meant this to happen.
  3. It is possible to love both parents still.
  4. The family is not gone, it is changing. You will always have us as family.
  5. It’s OK for you to be really upset and to find the whole thing very difficult. Young people can heal after disrupted relationships, but at the time it really hurts and it can take a long time.

If the conversation with your children starts to upset you a lot, and you start reacting unhelpfully, do things you know help to keep you calm – deep breathing, time out. Tears are fine, shouting is not.

Use your active listening skills – this means listening with all your attention without jumping in to explain, defend or fix things. When it is your turn to respond, use statements like “I can understand why you feel that way…”, or “I can see how difficult this is…..” It’s one way of keeping the temperature down during a conversation that is incredibly hard for you all.

Give It Time

Remember one really important thing. Time heals. The situation right now might be intolerable and often the only thing you can do is wait, while keeping all lines of communication open with your teenager. It’s a completely natural reaction to hold on tight to control a really frightening situation, but the most important thing is that the doorway to both parents is open to your teenager, even if he/she does not want to walk through it right now.

“It took me over five years to accept what had happened and finally openup to my friends about my family.” (Cerys, 15)

“But just know that hand on heart, it does get easier as time allows you to heal. It took me 10 years to realise that I wasn’t to blame for my parents’ divorce but once I did, I felt much better.” (Niamh, 16)

“Circumstances change and it’s horrible but it isn’t permanent, I promise things do get better.” (Jade 17)

Make time for several conversations with them. Keep things simple to start with, just the fact that you are separating and some of the key messages listed above.

They are likely to be very upset and need time to work out their worries and questions. Sometimes you won’t have answers to their questions. Promise them they will be the first to know as and when you do.

However much it might be true, don’t blame the other parent for the divorce in front of your teenager. It puts them in a very difficult situation if you do.

Teenagers need to be involved in the conversation about plans for the future. Sometimes they come up with creative solutions that their parents have not been able to work out.

Talk to them and listen to their ideas. If they are involved, they will have more ownership of the solution, which makes it more likely to succeed. Having an active role can build their self-esteem and confidence after a very hard knock. Tell them about this website if you have got here before they have.

Think particularly about the following issues:

  • Christmas and birthdays.
  • Time with friends and for out-of-school activities (sport, drama, music, etc.) –
  • teenagers need flexibility.
  • Time with other members of the family they may feel close to (e.g. grandparents).
  • Contact with pets.

If you are moving in with another family

If you are planning to move in with another family, take it very slowly for the sake of your teenager and listen to him/her throughout. Just because you’ve fallen in love again doesn’t mean they will.

Be clear this is not a replacement parent – instead, it is an opportunity to build up new relationships with others. Getting on with stepsiblings of the same age can be incredibly hard (especially when teenage hormones are all over the place!) If your teenager isn’t ready to meet, get on with or live with your new partner and their family, listen to that and give it time.


Further Help and Support

After checking out our content and guides, if you would like to seek further support for you as a parent during divorce & separation, please visit Sorting Out Separation.

What is Sorting out Separation?

Sorting out Separation is a free online resource for parents and couples dealing with divorce or separation.

Sorting out Separation will:

  • show you where to find reliable information, easy-to-use tools and specialist services on a range of topics
  • help you focus on and deal with the most important issues
  • create a personalised list of support services and tools for your circumstances

Who runs Sorting out Separation?

Sorting out Separation is part of the Government’s Help and Support for Separated Families initiative. This initiative aims to encourage parents to seek support, and develop and co-ordinate the support that is available.