How do I tell our kids that we're separating because my husband won't seek help for his depression?

The following question and my answer are reprinted from Healthshare - an Australian website that offers Australians access to health expertise by providing a directory of health professionals around the country, and an opportunity to have your questions answered by the 'experts'. To find out more, go to Alternatively, feel free to post your questions directly to me and I will answer via this Blog.

Question: How do I tell our kids that we're separating because my husband won't seek help for his depression?

 I have told my husband to leave due to his unwillingness/inability to address his depression. I have a 2 and 4 year old. Obviously the concept of depression is too much for them to understand - how do we explain this to them? I know all the tips about letting them know that we still love them, it is not their fault, etc. My question is how do we explain to them WHY we are separating?

My answer: It's probably not necessary to initiate a conversation about 'why' you are separating to a 2 and 4 year old. If you are responding to their questions about 'Why...?" it might be helpful to ask them further questions to find out what their concerns are, and then respond to those - for example, if your child is asking "Why is Daddy not living with us?" you may answer with something like "Are you worried that you won't see Daddy anymore?" Young children are more likely to need to know about how the separation will affect them, than about the reason you have separated.

The question of how to speak to your children about your husband's depression is a separate one. You might explain that it is an illness that people need to get help for, and that it makes it hard for them to feel happy, take part in activities (and whatever other symptoms your husband may be experiencing). It may be worth buying some resources that you can share with them about depression - such as those available through the Sane Australia website.
A list of children's resources is also available through Melbourne's Bouverie Centre.

There may be a part of you that is still questioning whether you've made the right decision. Even though you were the one to initiate the separation, it may be important for you to work through how you feel about having ended the relationship, whether you want to try and work through the issues with your 'ex', and to be supported through what may be a difficult transition into the next phase of your life - whether as a single parent, or while working through whether your husband is willing or capable of making the changes you need. A skilled relationship counsellor can assist you to work this through, either on your own or with your husband if you choose.

Till next post, Vivienne


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