Talking About Hard Stuff with Kids: Splitting Up

Polly, what can we say to our kids when we have decided to split up?

Below please find a sample script for parents wanting language for talking about divorce and ‘nesting’ (which in this case means: one main house for kids where the parent on duty stays with their children and a separate place for the parent who is off duty to stay) . Please borrow from it or adjust it as you wish to guide you if you are on a similar path.

The ‘Our Family is Changing’ conversation:

Dad and I have been talking together about our family. We have been thinking about all the things we love about our family and the parts that aren’t working so well between us parents. 

We agree that we both love being mom and dad to you. That’s something we have in common and we both LOVE our job of being your mom and dad more than anything else. 

Our love for you is a special kind of love that we both feel in our hearts that keeps growing and growing. Can you imagine a love that grows and grows and never stops growing? That’s how we both feel about you.

But our love with each other has changed and we want to tell you about the changes. We used to feel like we only wanted to be around each other and now, we are like friends–like pals –and like lots of pals, we need breaks from each other. Have you ever had a pal like that? A friend or family member who you like to be with sometimes but who you need breaks from? Those breaks sometimes help friends stay friendly with each other. Same goes for us.

We like to talk and be friendly with each other but we have discovered that we don’t do a very good job at living together. Mostly when we live together, we get growly with each other and snappy at each other in a way that doesn’t feel good to dad or to mom. Living together as married people is hard for us! We think living apart as friends will be better for us and for our family. Mom feels friendly towards dad and dad feels friendly towards mom especially when we get lots of separate time away from each other.

So we thought together about what we could do so we can keep being good pals AND still get to do our favorite thing, which is be mom and dad to you. We thought and we thought and we talked and we talked and we came up with a different kind of plan for our family that feels better to us. Can we explain what we would like to do?

We have decided that starting in _____________(identify time frame), mom and dad will take turns being here at our family house or _________________________________________________(explain new living arrangement). So we won’t both be with you at the same time anymore. We will take turns getting to be with you. In some ways this might be harder on you and in other ways it might be a bit easier.

Co-parenting Calendar to consider purchasing to help children adjust


When mom is away from you, she will be loving you even though she is further away. Then she comes back and she gets to love you up close. 

When dad is away from the house, he loves you from further away and when he returns he gets to love you up close.

Mom wants you to really enjoy your time with dad and dad wants you to really enjoy time with mom.

Sometimes we will all be together and play together when it’s dad’s turn with you. Sometimes we will all meet together and play together when it’s Mom’s turn with you.

But when mom is with you at _________house, dad will sleep at his “daddy house” and when dad is with you at ___________house, then mom will sleep at her “mommy house”.

What will stay the same in your life?

School: Nothing will change with your school except that Mom and Dad may have a new routine dropping you off and picking you up.  You may get Dad more/less than you have in the past and/or you may get Mom more/less than you have in the past.

Your toys: All your stuff will stay here and this is where you will live with mom and dad coming and going.  Or we will divide your stuff between our two houses and we will have a special bag/packing system to help you bring back and forth some of your favorite/one of a kind things that are important to you.

You will get to keep doing your favorite activities like____________________________

Special time away as a family: Share with your child if you have plans to take a vacation/participate in a family tradition/holiday together.

Family: We are still a family who is happy and who loves each other. We will just be a different kind of family now because mom and dad will take turns being with you.

How will our life be different?

You will be with Mom for __________________sleeps/nights a week and you will be with Dad for _________________________sleeps/nights a week.  This routine and schedule will be different and we will help you adjust.

Will we still be together sometimes as a family? 

YES every _______________________ we will all be together. Also we will be together for birthdays, holidays and vacations. (Or let them know if you’ll be celebrating these special dates separately)

What if I miss mom when I am with dad or I miss dad when I am with mom?

We will both help to arrange a phone call or a facetime chat with the parent that you are missing. 

Can we call the other parent at bedtime who is not at our house?

Yes every night!

Is it ok to tell my friends that my parents live separately?

It’s ok to let people/friends know your parents don’t live in your house together at the same time and/or live in separate houses.

Does this mean you are getting divorced?

Yes it does mean we are getting divorced BUT we are still a family and we always will be. Now we will be a different kind of family. Mom and dad are really good friends who care about each other. Most of all we love you more than ever and that will never change. 

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Polly Ely, MFTComment