How To Tell Your Children You’re Getting Separated: Part Three – Cage Fight

You and your baby daddy/momma have come to an accord about how to handle the news, you’ve picked the time and place, and suddenly, you find yourselves in front of the innocent, carefree faces of your Greatest Joys, gazing at you with expectation waiting for a big announcement. Are Jewish mommy and daddy deciding to celebrate Christmas after all? Is Santa real like they’d always suspected? What news could be big enough for a “family” meeting on a random Saturday than re-instating Christmas?

At first when you tell your kids they may not believe you. David’s initial reaction is, “Stop it. That’s not funny.” He thinks we are joking. “We’re not joking,” I respond to our eight-year-old, still unaware of what is to come, “We’ve decided mommy and daddy are not going to be husband and wife anymore.”

A pause. Then, the screaming begins. Both David and Samson (7) start crying at exactly the same time, tears squirting over cheeks simultaneously like an Ethel Merman number. They stare at us as if we were Satan’s incarnate. “You’re leaving?” wails David melodramatically, and I can’t figure out if he’s looking at dad, or me but either way he is already in a panic.

“Nobody is going anywhere,” I respond calmly, “We’re going to take turns raising you the way we have been.” We have already been separated for two months, the kids just didn’t notice. David briefly asked why we weren’t sleeping together and Daddy replied that he was potty training the dogs. No one asked any more about it. We had been splitting our time with them, as well as having some combined family time, and since the kids have neither read Plato nor seen Internet porn, it was unnecessary to explain to them that we were now “platonic.”

The main thing that kids want to know in a separation is that you will not fall out of love with them, and discard them the way you gave away your former favorite pair of blue alligator shoes to Goodwill that one time, and the way you’re now throwing out your spouse. “If such beloved possessions can end up on the discard pile, how soon before we are next?” they think, but though I blog a lot about maternal ambivalence, there is nothing in me that wants to get rid of them like old lawn furniture. At least not until they finish high school.

As we patiently explain with carefully chosen phrases like “I’ll always be your mommy,” “This is a grown-up problem” and assorted other shrink-speak, the children seem like they are going to cry forever. As instructed, their father and I begin to weep openly. It is important that the children see that we are disappointed too, we have been told. The tears are genuine and not for ourselves, even though we too thought we would stay married forever. But we have had several weeks (years) to come to terms with this. Now we cry because we cannot bear willfully hurting these little souls. Daddy moves to sit with David, and Samson looks about to sit in the armchair next to mine, but instead he walks up and (true to his name) picks up the chair and throws it across the room.

It’s a bit Jerry Springer, but even in the moment I admire his physical way of dealing with things. I wish I could throw something heavy…

David follows suit by picking up his green juice bottle and flinging it against the wall, where it spurts out asymmetrically, making intriguing shapes. (He’s such a genius artist!) I understand the desire to make the outside world conform to the chaos within; the irresistible need to show people your pain. As a former self-harmer, I feel my inner dial snap into the danger zone. I want to hurt myself right now. I take small breaths. I cannot hurt my children this way. I look over at the crying face of my former spouse and think, “This is a terrible mistake.”

“How could you do this to us?” Asks David and that is when I come back to my senses. I forgot what self-absorbed little shits they are and this comforts me briefly, as they are supposed to be exactly that at their age and level of development. They do not give one fuck about whether or not I am happy, or their father is happy, and would prefer if we merrily continued to suffer in misery for the terms of their natural lives. It’s so selfish it’s almost cute. I remind myself that if mommy is happy, kids are happy and same goes for daddy and gird myself against the tears. The shrieking is starting to recede, like sirens on the highway…

Finally, David sniffs. “Can I watch TV?” he asks.
“Sure,” I answer, “Is there anything else you want to know?”
“No,” he shrugs and goes downstairs. Soon Samson follows. Daddy and I exist in space like empty grape-skins hanging by a stem.
“You okay?” I ask.
“Yes.” He seems unconvinced. “You?”
“That was the worst thing…”
“That I’ve ever gone through in my life,” he says. We are still finishing each others sentences. We have endured yet another tribulation as what we are – the best of friends.

That night we put the kids to bed together and they seem sad but not disproportionately so. Afterwards, I lie shaking in the fetal position, angry with everyone who told me it would be okay. Those lying fucks! It wasn’t okay; it was awful, the worst…

The next day I have an emotional hangover, the adrenaline and cortisol bursting through my blood stream in spurts. The kids seem… fine.

Over the next few weeks they ask questions of their own volition.

“Will daddy have a girlfriend?” this amuses them endlessly. They giggle and I catch the word “bikini.”

“I can’t believe you got a divorce and had a car accident in the same year,” chuckles David in the backseat on the way to school.

“Can you stay together if we’re weally, weally good?” asks Samson.

Before I can answer, David chimes in, big brother-like, “They said it was a grown-up problem. It has nothing to do with us…”

I sigh with relief.

After two weeks, gently, I mention the possibility of a boyfriend. Suddenly my Baby Paramours turn stony faced, as if such a suitor would be a rival who must be faced in a duel at dawn. Well, I guess that news will have to wait… stick cage


  1. Like reading Jane Austen in middle school; I’ve become obessed with your story. I can’t wait to hear about the boyfriend!

  2. I have to say I found your boys reactions exactly what you would hope for as a parent. Of course they were upset, it’s the worst news they’ve had to hear in their young lives, but the process of them being upset, then angry and now understanding that its not their fault seems to me to show they have handled it really well. They’ve had a chance to express themselves and you have clearly helped them understand its not their fault. Susanna I think you may have cost a shrink some work later in their lives. Kids are so much more adaptable and resilient than we give them credit for. Maybe the hardest thing for them to resist is us imposing our fears and anxieties on to them. If you can avoid this as a parent I think half the battle is won.
    As for the hint of a new boyfriend Susanna I feel a little disappointed you didn’t come to me first. I know I live on the otherside of the world, am married and in not so great health at the moment but still:-) On a serious note after my separation the woman I began seeing went on to become my wife( I nearly said current wife). I think because I was so depressed after years of unhappiness that I ended up with someone that simply made me happy. Who would have thought that was a good starting point for a relationship?!
    I hope that you too will find real inner strength and comfort in the positive way you are guiding your kids through such an emotional mindfield( yes mindfield, far more dangerous than a minefield)
    Sorry for the overly long share, it’s just ridiculous how much I relate to your situation. Best wishes as always from a land far away.

    • Thanks so much Herb. You have been such a wonderful source of comments and support. I’m sorry I can’t marry you, but maybe in another life… And thank you for believing that the kids will be okay. Let’s hope we are both proven correct!

  3. As someone who has been divorced for three years, I alternate between mildly fond of my ex and content with our coparenting, being so angry i can’t even look at my child because of her blind ignorant love for her father, and sobbing uncontrollably under my desk at work at the fact that someone even though i divorced him, I’ll NEVER be free of him. Sometimes I hit all three of these within a week, or sometimes even a day.The one good thing is that our baby was 1 when we got divorced. So at least this is all she knows. It suuucks. Take care though, it will get better.

    • Kate this is EXACTLY how I feel about my ex husband too! Three years on and happy with a new (part time) boyfriend my Ex STILL brings all these emotions out in me too. How do they keep the power???

  4. Oh, Susana…
    Just had to say that…
    Thanks still for sharing deeply. I can’t help but think in that selfish way – I’m glad I’m not the only one dealing with separation and break up crap … but really , I’m sure your writing about it helps the healing – and It helps mine. (I went and wrote 90,000 words of a book in the 28 days following my split…)
    Thanks for your funny/serious way of telling your story.
    Boyfriend? Already I’m heartbroken..;-D

    • I’m really glad you feel understood by my writing, I seek to relate to everyone, especially those who want to marry me 🙂 Trust me, you’re dodging a bullet on that one…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s