How do I approach the subject of my brother's marriage ending? I have two boys aged seven and nine and want to explain to them sensitively what's happening. Their uncle and auntie are splitting up, and I wonder do we simply explain they are splitting up, and that's that? Or do we talk about them falling out of love? I find it hard to know what to say, as I don't want to sound blasé. But at the same time I don't want be too deep because I feel they are too young to understand the intricacies of the situation. What should I do?
The key to being sensitive is actually to be available to your children in the times after you have initially said something about the separation.
Whenever we have to tell our children about something significant or potentially distressing we need to think of it as a process rather than as an event.
So, when you tell them about your brother and his wife it is, perhaps, just the start of several conversations about marriage, separation, conflict, decision-making, changing your mind and so on.
There are two initial things to explain to your children: the fact that their uncle and aunt are separating and the reason why they are separating. The fact of it will always sound a bit blunt. The explanation for it should be as accurate as possible without unduly frightening them.
So, for example, it may be okay to explain that their uncle and aunt disagree, or fight, so much when they live together that neither of them are happy. At the same time, the potential extent of the fighting or bitterness need not necessarily be explained.
You can anticipate that telling your children about the split may lead to many more questions for them. At their age the questions may be quite practical. Where will their uncle live? Where will any cousins live? Will they still see their uncle or their aunt?
It may also provoke some insecurity for your children about the resilience and strength of your own relationship. Will you and their dad split up, for example? If you fight or disagree, is this the start of you both separating too?
This is why you need to have several conversations with your children, not specifically about your brother's situation, but more generally about relationships, conflict, resolving conflict, love, marriage and other issues that they may wonder about, or have feelings about.
So, while your children may ask lots of questions to prompt this kind of further discussion, they may not ask anything either. If they don't ask questions then you may need to bring it up again at different times and in different ways.
For example, if you are watching a TV soap opera and the issue of separation comes up then this could be an opportunity to talk again about your brother or some of the wider, associated, issues.
Whatever you decide to tell your children initially, my guess is that the majority of your discussions with them will be about your own family, reassuring them that you and their dad have a secure and stable relationship.