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“Mum and Dad Are Splitting Up” – How to Handle the Toughest Conversation You’ll Ever Have

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When Ben Dillon-Smith and his ex-wife split up, he had to break the news to his five-year-old son. Here’s how he did it and what he learned along the way.

“The toughest conversation you’re ever going to have is telling your child that Mum and Dad are separating, their home is going to be sold and we’re all going to have to move. That’s a lot for a five-year-old to take on board.

“I did a lot of research on how to say it. I didn’t want to wing it. I actually wrote a script to prepare what to say just in case I lost my shit halfway through. Because I knew I had to make it very clear and simple in my son Jethro’s terms and be as prepared as possible for how he processed and dealt with that initial conversation.

“You’ve got to remember that a five-year-old doesn’t comprehend the concept of being ‘in love’ – the love that parents have (or had) for each other. They just understand the unconditional love between family members and friends. So there’s no point even trying to explain that type of love to them at that point.

“The research I did essentially distilled things down to three key points, beyond ‘this is what’s happening’.

“The first was that Mum and Dad always love you and that will never change.

“The second was that we’ll always be your mum and dad and that will never change – that anticipates some of the confusion if any other partners come into play later on.

“The third thing was: this is not your fault and there’s nothing you can or should try to do to fix or change it. This may feel odd to say even if they haven’t considered this at all. However it is important to state this, as you don’t want your child to feel like it is in any way their fault and that they might be able to manipulate the situation in trying to get mum and dad back together.

“I was just focused on saying those three things really clearly and we focused on making sure that Jethro felt loved and safe.

“Yes, I was nervous – it’s a horrible feeling knowing that you’re going to have to sit down for this conversation.

“Jethro was playing in our lounge room of our family home, room over looking the bush and river. We both sat with him on the floor and said: “Mum and Dad have got to have a conversation with you”.

“At the end of that conversation, you’re sitting there waiting for an unknown response.

“I’d written a bunch of preemptive questions just in case, because I wanted to be prepared. They were things that I thought Jethro might ask like “Where will we live?” or “Do I have to choose between Mum and Dad?”

“But his response was: “Okay. Can I play Lego now?”

“And I was like: “Yes, you can – because that’s what you need to do right now”

“I just about held it together throughout that – although I don’t think it’s a bad thing if you do cry – but I did hold it together. Then I went away and just broke down

“But that conversation is probably the main reason I started my blog, thesingledadjourney.com. I had enough other dads that were going through something similar or friends of dads who asked: “How did you cope with this?” or “What did you do in this circumstance?” So I started sharing the script I wrote for Jethro so they could adapt it for themselves.”

You can read Ben’s script here on his excellent blog, thesingledadjourney.com