Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In the past twelve instalments we’ve covered everything from the effect of lockdown on divorces to whether they’re contagious and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one who discovered her husband’s affair during lockdown and another who found out her husband had a vasectomy and didn’t tell her – even after they’d been trying for a baby for a year.
This week we speak to Meg, who is still haunted by the way her daughter learned that their marriage was over. We also speak to two divorce coaches who weigh in on parenting after a separation and the optimum ways to tell your children about divorce.
“My biggest regret in life, is how my daughter found out that our marriage was ending,” says Meg*.
Meg had been married to her husband, Simon for eleven years and they had one, gorgeous daughter together, Kate, who was six years old when they separated. But the day their marriage came to an end continues to haunt Meg.
“I got a call at work saying she had a sudden temperature and needed to be picked up,” remembers Meg. “Simon was at a conference for the day, so I didn’t bother calling him and went straight to her school.”
She stopped off quickly to grab a few supplies on the way home, and as she got the bags out of the boot, she was surprised to see that her daughter had opened the front door and was already inside the house. Had she left the door unlocked when she left this morning?
“I started imagining that we were being burgled and she was walking into that, so I ran inside, where I discovered my husband having an affair in our kitchen.”
Meg says she was in shock, but remembers screaming, “’What the f***?’ He said something like, ‘Meg, what are you doing here?!?’ which I replied, ‘what ARE YOU DOING HERE?’ The woman ran off to the bathroom, because, I guess it’s hard to put your top back on when everyone is looking at you. But then I realised properly what was happening and Kate was crying so I scooped her up and took her to her bedroom.”
There, she consoled upset and poorly Kate who was asking why Daddy was kissing that lady. “God, I hope she wasn’t standing there for long, without them realizing, before I tore into the house,” she says. She told Kate that there had just been a little misunderstanding, and everything was going to be okay.
Except things were most definitely not okay. Instead of her husband coming back groveling and apologizing and wanting to save their marriage, like she imagined, he instead left the house the day with the woman and returned to pack a bag and tell Meg that their marriage was over. “I wanted him to at least sit with me and tell Kate so she could at least feel a bit safer and secure and know she was loved by us both, but he refused,” tells Meg. Instead, she was left explaining to Kate that her mummy and daddy were going to live in different houses now.
“She was six, but she’s certainly smart,” says Meg. “She knew he was with that other woman. It haunts me how she found out and that we didn’t have a conversation together with her about it. And I wish her dad would give her the attention she needs. Don’t worry, I’m already stashing away money for the therapy she’ll one day need.”
Now, several years later, Meg has full custody of her daughter and is continually frustrated by her exes lack of interest in continuing a relationship with their daughter. And Kate, unfortunately, can still remember the day they broke up very clearly.
One of the most difficult parts of divorce can be working out how to parent your children as a separated couple – and actually telling them that your relationship is over. Sometimes the circumstances are out of your control – like what Meg experienced – but if you have time to prepare, it can make a big impact on how your children adjust to the news.
Divorce coach Bridgette Jackson of Equal Exes frequently deals with women – and some men – who engage her services to ensure it’s a smooth transition.
And when it comes to successful co-parenting, there’s something she often sees time and time again in those former couples.
“They’ve got the foresight to realise that they’ve had a child together and that’s not going to end tomorrow,” she says. “They don’t want to create drama and chaos, they actually want to work together as a family unit, but in a different way, just not in the same houses. They want to be aligned, they want to be amicable and at the end of the day they’re focusing on the best interests of the children. And that’s what matters on the parenting side of a divorce. It makes it much easy to co-parent when you can sit down and talk about how it’s all going to look moving forward.”
Fellow divorce coach Kimberlee Sweeney of Degrees of Separation agrees that putting the kids first is vital for positive outcomes – and that first conversation of telling them about a separation must be carefully planned out.
“It’s definitely important to not involve the children in the discussions of the ins and outs of the separation, what’s going on and all the reasons truly why,” she tells. “I encourage all my clients to sit down together and tell them that Mum and Dad are separating, but they don’t need the nitty gritty details. They just need to understand that Mum and Dad don’t love each other anymore but they still love them very much and they’re still going to be a big part of their lives. Hopefully by that point they have a parenting agreement in place so they know when the kids are going to be with Mum each week and with Dad and then they can explain what life is going to look like moving forward. Really, that’s all the kids need to know – it’s that mum and dad still love them, where they’re going to be from one day of the week to the next and that they’ve still got a mum and dad who will always be there for them.”
*Names have been changed.
THE DIVORCE DIARIES
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