Telling our son about the split - when?
June 16, 2014 9:28 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I have decided to seperate.

We've held off on telling our 10 year-old son until school is out. School ends next Wednesday. We're all are going to London for a week starting next Thursday (the trip was planned long ago, and it's okay that we're going together, we're remaining close and friendly, etc.). We are staying with friends. I think we need to tell our son this weekend as school next week is a bunch of bullshit half-days and he can deal, see his pals, and have time to digest before we go on our trip. I want to tell him before we leave; I am ready to be open and up front about our son, to our frineds in LOndon, and to each other. I do not want to wait until we we get back from London, while my husband does. Advice?
posted by jen14221 to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should tell him before the trip to London. If the trip is a success - and it sounds very, very likely to be - it will show him that the divorce doesn't mark the end of the world as he knows it. A great way to really show that you guys will continue to be strong partners and loving parents, even if you aren't together anymore.

Also, I think it would be confusing to learn about a divorce right after a family vacation. If I were 10, I'd probably keep thinking "But the vacation was such a good time, why can't they make it work?"
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:33 AM on June 16, 2014 [20 favorites]

Oh god maybe this is just me personally, but I would not tell him until after the trip. My parents had a very amicable divorce when I was 8 and it still filled me with tons of anxiety whenever I had to be around both of them together. Not because they fought, just because it was well awkward. Kids realize how big a deal divorce is and that it is not natural for two people divorcing to just hang out for fun. Everything just feels forced and faked.

I mean even as an adult do you really want to hang out with two friends going through a divorce no matter how amicable? Of course not. That's weird.

The last thing I wanted to do after my parents told me they were getting divorced was to go on a vacation and pretend everything was fine. Everything isn't fine. You've had time to process this. He hasn't. Just because this is amicable and you both are being the best parents you can be in this situation doesn't mean this is no big deal and your son isn't going to be extremely upset and shocked.

I mean I might be projecting and not everyone reacts to their parents divorce the way I did, but I would wait until afterwards.
posted by whoaali at 9:45 AM on June 16, 2014 [18 favorites]

My son was the same age when I separated from his dad. I just showed him your ask (he is 22 now) and his exact words were, "oh hell NO." He feels you should let your son enjoy this last vacation as a family, close out the school year and celebrate with his pals without the black cloud over his head, then sit down with him and talk it through. I guess I somewhat agree, although there is never a great time to break the news. I'm sorry.
posted by notaninja at 9:45 AM on June 16, 2014 [36 favorites]

This is the kind of thing that can go both ways depending on your child's personality, and honestly, there's no great time to tell a kid something like this. He might really have a hard time dealing with being with both of you 24/7 if he knows you're separating and now things are "different" in an ineffable way. Or he might roll with it. It's hard to say.

So, since there's no "right" answer, and you want to remain amicable and friendly, this is something I'd bend on if I were you. I say go with what makes your husband feel comfortable and wait.

I say this as someone who has maintained a friendly co-parenting situation for about 2 years now despite separation. This is the kind of thing to be flexible about, IMO.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:46 AM on June 16, 2014

Oh, and my ex and I see each other every day, save Tuesday. We get along in large part because we're both willing to bend on things like this.

It might also be worth talking to a family psychologist or counselor about, if that's a resource that's available to you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:48 AM on June 16, 2014

You said split and separate. You didn't say divorce, but some repliers here think you said divorce. Those are different situations and can be expressed to your son quite differently.
posted by Dansaman at 9:50 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I want to tell him before we leave;

My parents told me right before Thanksgiving and then my dad moved out after Christmas (with the family) which was two ruined holidays while everyone was, to my mind, faking it. Tell the kid when there aren't a bunch of things coming up. Don't make him process this on his vacation. That seems to be prioritizing your own need to get this over with with his concerns. Only you know how he's likely to deal with this, but I was about ten when I was told and I was just wanting to get their terrible relationship over with and not spend more fakey time with both of them.
posted by jessamyn at 9:50 AM on June 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

Whatever you do, don't wait to do it after one of you starts moving out. One of the most traumatizing experiences of my life was watching my dad pack his shit and leave, asking, "What's going on? Where are you going? Are we going on a trip? Are you mad at us?" and being told nothing was going on and not to worry. Only to be sat down for The Talk a week later.
posted by Sara C. at 9:51 AM on June 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

How tense are things in your home right now? If you think he's likely to have picked up on the trouble between you and your husband - and ESPECIALLY if you think he could be worrying already over whether or not you might split - I would lean towards telling him now. Personally I think the anxiety over what might be coming down the line is almost always worse than finally having to deal with a thing once it's out in the open.

Otherwise, if you think he's fairly in the dark about things and could enjoy this one last vacation as a family, then I'd vote for telling him afterwards.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:52 AM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Those are different situations and can be expressed to your son quite differently.

Not really, unless there are firm plans to be back together within a certain timeframe. Your parents splitting up is your parents splitting up. Certainly if you guys plan to live apart and have some kind of shared custody situation, even if somewhat temporary, this is going to mean a huge change to his life and trying to minimize it as "daddy's going away for a little while" or something is a bad idea.
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 AM on June 16, 2014

Divorced parent in amicable co-parenting arrangement here: Oh god, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE wait until you get back to tell him. Here's the deal: vacations, while fun, are destabilizing (that's why we take them: to shake up our normal lives a little). Telling your kid you're separating is destabilizing. A little kid does NOT NEED that one-two punch of destabilization. When he gets the Big News, he should be on his home turf, which is comfortable and familiar and safe. He should have plenty of time to process it, and to be alone, or to be clingy, or to do WHATEVER he needs. He does not need the added stress and change and forced interaction that a vacation brings. It will not make it seem like the vacation was "just a sham" if you wait until afterwards to tell him, I promise.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:55 AM on June 16, 2014 [28 favorites]

Also: you mention that you want to tell him beforehand because you're "ready to be open and upfront". Tough love here: whatever it is that YOU want needs to get put on a shelf for the time being, so you can focus on what's best for THE KID. I am vehemently opposed to staying together for the kids - it's a stupid, stupid idea in most cases - but I am a STRONG proponent of making sure that EVERY action you take before, during, and after the split is made with the kid's best interests at heart. It doesn't matter what YOU are ready to do. What matters is what your kid is ready/willing/able to handle, and what will be least-disruptive and traumatizing to him. Divorce can be the best thing ever for families, but only if both parents try their damndest to bear the "first, do no harm (to the kids)" principle in mind.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:00 AM on June 16, 2014 [14 favorites]

Please wait.
posted by pointystick at 10:02 AM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was fifteen when my parents separated (and ultimately divorced), so a bit older than your son.

While the machinery had been in the works for months, my parents delayed letting me know until I had a chance to go on a long-planned foreign exchange trip that summer. They told me when I came home.

It wasn't a great homecoming, to be sure, but I am so glad that I was able to have that fantastic solo travel experience while still in a stable headspace. I learned a lot on that trip, about the world, about myself, about how to be with people. Had my parents told me their news before I went, I would not have had anything like that growth--in fact, I'm sure it would have been a scary, unpleasant experience to be traveling while my homelife was coming apart.

And, of course, the people you'll be seeing and staying with didn't sign up for hosting you while your family implodes.

Wait until after. I'd say at least a week after, or as long as you can. There's no real rush, despite feeling like you're in limbo. But it would be good for the kid to have some distance from that nice London trip (i.e., don't spring it on the ride home from the airport, at the very least).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:02 AM on June 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

God, please don't tell him right before an overseas trip. I mean, the last week of school might be 'a bunch of bullshit', but it's going to take him more than 3 days to process this news anyway, y'know.

I can understand why ripping the bandaid off might seem better from your point of view, but you have the benefit of an adult perspective. All he's going to hear is that his family is being split apart. It would be kinder to all concerned for him to enjoy his holiday untroubled.
posted by Salamander at 10:05 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Child of divorced parents here: Decades after their divorce, whenever Mom and Dad are together in the same room, 5% of me wonders if (and sometimes hopes) they will get back together. And I am a grown woman.

If I was 10, and was told they were splitting and we went on a big awesome family vacation, I'd be completely obsessed with whether this trip would be the thing that keeps them together/gets them back together. And be crushed afterward when it wasn't.

I vote for waiting.
posted by kimberussell at 10:06 AM on June 16, 2014 [12 favorites]

Dansaman: one of the tags says divorce.
posted by kimberussell at 10:07 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're husband's right. If you've kept this up as long as you have, don't ruin his trip, too. He's not going to process this better in London. He needs to do that at home. If you tell him before London, then it'll be this whole weird thing for everyone going there.

The moment you tell him, London will become an afterthought. Why would he even want to go with his soon-to-be divorced parents? It seems super akward.

I think you're confusing what you want (to tell everyone and have it be out in the open) with what is best for him.
posted by inturnaround at 10:11 AM on June 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was going to say the exact same thing as kimberussell. Don't let him get his hopes up about the possibility of an awesome trip motivating you to stay together.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 10:15 AM on June 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would wait until you are back from London, bar none. It's going to be hard summer for your kid, and having some nice memories of his family in London would be preferable.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:34 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nope, nope, nope. Please wait.

I was in a very similar situation, only I was 20 and living in London at the time. It was 1990. My parents were in the US, where we're all from. My dad called me up one day and proposed a trip--just the two of us. We'd rent a car! We'd tour Cornwall and Devon! We'd make no reservations, just sleep wherever we landed! I said ok. My mom called with a change of plans--now it would be the three of us. They flew to London and spent the night in a hotel. The next morning the 3 of us rented a car and drove to Cornwall--hours and hours away from London where I lived. We spent the night in a quaint hotel there.

The next morning my dad came into my room and said "Your mother and I are getting a divorce. Don't worry though! We're still going on our trip together!" Across southwestern England, in winter, in a tiny rented car.

The windows fogged up. Most tourist attractions were closed for winter, aside from churches and cemeteries. It rained every day. All I heard was the same stupid Kylie Minogue song on repeat on the radio. Sometimes we slept in the same room because that's all that was available in the small town where we stopped for the night. My mother was trying so hard to pretend to be ok with what was going on, and my father was silent and grim, gripping the wheel with white knuckles. My father drove too fast down the tiny country lanes. My mother laughed too loud lyat anything I said. She shook her head, a new tic, in a way that said she was trying to will herself out of the situation. I knew how she felt. Every time we saw ponies, they made me get out of the car and stand next to them so they could take photos to remind themselves of this divorce trip.

Please wait to tell your son until after this trip. Even if you think you're being normal and everything is peachy, your kid is bound to have some complicated feelings about the impending divorce, and he may not want to either share them with you or want this trip to become a family counseling session. Just imagine him, asleep in a strange bed, lying awake and wondering things like is it his fault, why are you traveling, who else knows, what will family holidays be like. And with no ordinary routine of life to be a cushion.

Just because you are ready for everyone to know does not mean it's the right time for everyone else to have the information. I beg you to wait, for your son's sake.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:55 AM on June 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

Oh my god, just no. You absolutely need to wait. No matter how well you and your husband are getting along, you've had ages to process this news, and your son is absolutely NOT going to be able to "digest" in only a few days. Even if you two don't find the situation awkward, your son almost certainly will. My parents split when I was 17, and holidays and celebrations where they were both present did not stop feeling incredibly weird and uncomfortable until a good five years later.

In fact, I would even wait a week or two after the trip to tell him so as to separate the two events as much as possible. My husband's parents told their kids of their impending divorce immediately upon their return from their last vacation as a family, and he still has such negative associations toward it even though the vacation itself was technically fine.
posted by anderjen at 11:19 AM on June 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm not divorced, but am a child of divorce. I would strongly encourage you to wait until after your trip. Otherwise he's going to be angsty, mopey, emotional, fighty and/or pleading during your vacation. No matter how amicable you and your soon-to-be-ex are, this news is going to be very upsetting for your son and would ruin any chance he (and you guys) have for a fun vacation. You need to give him time to process this.
posted by Safiya at 11:49 AM on June 16, 2014

Also, please consider that he will probably require some degree of privacy and solitude as he works through this - to think, to be angry or confused or bewildered, maybe even to cry - and to not have that kind of space while on vacation is probably going to be incredibly challenging. Staying with family friends where he may feel pressured to bury his feelings and put on a happy face for his hosts is going to add another layer of difficulty for him. I mean, he's only ten, he can't exactly take off for a solitary walk along the Thames or go have a quiet drink at the pub in order to get that space like an adult could, you know?
posted by anderjen at 1:13 PM on June 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I (male, 47, parents were divorced when I was 12) would say that circumstances are so specific for every individual person, that it's quite impossible to say which moment is best suited to tell him. He will probably be devastated anyway and experience a huge dent in his mental well being. If anything, I wouldn't postpone too long because you are in a way lying to him by not telling something. But that said, I have personal experience with "hearing the bad news" and now know a lot of people who went through a divorce or have grown up from divorced parents, and I would say:

- Do NOT lie to yourself or your peers about "how well he has taken it". This is the number one thing I've seen. Parents do this to console themselves about the awful mess they've created. He is NOT taking it well. Most likely he will cope, suppress his emotions and stuff like that. Make sure he gets support. He is on the beginning of puberty and all of that will be hugely influenced by divorced parents.

- Make sure he's not going to be the communications hub between his divorced parents. Or worse, the person who needs to hear why mum or dad was so impossible to live with.

- Keep checking on his well being. His school results may suffer (mine did), his relationships may suffer (mine did), his ability to have fun may suffer (mine did), etc. My parents were not really listening to what happened and I started living inside my head. I think this is the worst that can happen, i.e. a child that discovers a coping mechanism and parents who are not alarmed by what's happening to their child.

Good luck!
posted by hz37 at 2:12 PM on June 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

My parents divorced when I was 8 and they told us (a month or so?) before a planned trip to Disneyland. I don't remember the trip being RUINED, but my dad has a photo of us (him, me and my sister) on that trip up in his house and whenever I see it I think sadly about how that was the last family trip we all took together. (Which might happen either way, honestly.) I don't have specific advice, but that trip was certainly not the most traumatic part of the divorce for me.

Good luck and I'm sorry you have to go through this.
posted by girlalex at 3:26 PM on June 16, 2014

Do you have to go on the trip? Sounds like it's better for you guys not for him. If you talk to him beforehand give him the option to veto. /child whose parents divorced at ten and made nearly every post divorce decision based around their newfound freedom and not what was best for their kids.
posted by smoke at 3:30 PM on June 16, 2014

For God's sake, wait until you come back from London. Why do you want to take the chance of ruining his trip? And how weird that you will be together while you tell him that you are splitting up...
posted by OhSusannah at 10:03 PM on June 17, 2014

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