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Parent Relationships: Separation

The breakdown of a relationship can be an emotional time. Figuring out how you and your family will adjust can be a painful process, but you're not alone.

Sad girl cuddling a teddy bear because her parents are fighting

Relationship breakdown – what you need to know

For many parents, deciding to end a relationship is difficult and can bring with it some significant changes.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The ending of relationships can be an emotional time for everyone
  • While it can be a difficult process, relationship breakdowns are a reality for many parents
  • It can be helpful to consider how divorce or separation can impact the family so that you can all be prepared
  • Finding ways to move through these times together, despite the changes, is important in ensuring the transition is as smooth as possible

The impact on you and your family - what to expect

While everyone’s response to a breakup is different, it can help to start preparing for the potential impacts upon both you and the kids. Here are some common responses to a break up:

For parents:

  • Strong emotions such as shock, confusion, grief, anger, guilt and fear
  • Changes in parenting responsibilities as a single parent
  • Missing the kids when they are not around
  • Changes to finances
  • Worrying that one parent is spending more time with the kids
  • Changes in living arrangements

For kids:

  • Depending on their age, kids can respond to loss and change differently
  • It can be difficult for kids to express clearly how they feel. They may be experiencing lots of different emotions at the same time (anger, sadness, grief, powerlessness)
  • There can be changes in behaviour - acting out, withdrawing, or trying to be on their ‘best behaviour’
  • Difficulty adjusting to potential changes in school, friends and homes
  • Stress dealing with tense family situations and parent conflict

How to best support your kids

It can be hard to know how to help your kids adjust to family changes.

Each family is unique and it’s important to seek out tailored support for your personal circumstances.

Depending on your personal situation, try to talk to them in a way that lets them know these key messages:


  • They are loved and will be cared for by both parents
  • There is no need to choose between the two of you
  • They are not responsible for the relationship ending
  • Their feelings are important and will be heard
  • Decisions will be talked through with the family
  • They will still have a relationship with each parent

Talking through the changes

Finding the right words to help your kids understand the changes can feel hard at first. Here are some tips that might make it a bit easier: 

While it is important to be honest, keeping in mind the age and emotional level of your child is important when deciding how much to share 

Be prepared to listen to your child’s concerns and talk about their worries - it’s ok if you don’t have all the answers right away

Find a positive way to discuss the decision to split - eg. "we’ve decided we’ll both be happier if we separate"

Plan a time where everyone can be together and choose a place with few distractions or interruptions

After talking as a family, follow up with each child individually to make sure they understand and have the chance to ask questions

You might decide to talk to your kids while doing something together as this can ease the tension (a long car trip/walking the dog)

Aim to create a conflict free space so that your kids feel comfortable to share how they feel

How to work together as parents

Although a relationship is ending, presenting a unified front to your kids helps them feel safe and secure during these changes. Being ‘partners in parenting’ means:

  • Making time to communicate effectively with each other
  • Making decisions together - this might mean creating a parenting plan
  • Following through with plans and being consistent
  • Role modelling healthy and effective ways to manage conflict
  • Avoiding involving kids in conflict or adult conversations
  • Using respectful language when talking about the other parent with your kids
  • Being patient with each other and your kids - adjusting to change takes time
  • Remembering self-care - you can only take care of the kids if you take care of yourself

It is possible to get through a separation/divorce together

There is support available for you and your family during this time of change.

This content was last reviewed 18/05/2018

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