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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I tell our kids about our marital separation due to 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?
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  • 1


    I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    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 respond 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.

    You may also be asking yourself - why have we separated? 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. A skilled relationship counsellor can assist you to work this through, either on your own or with your husband if you choose.

    Hope this helps

    Vivienne Colegrove

  • Dr Beth Thomas


    Beth works at the Angliss Hospital (Ferntree Gully) which has paediatric inpatients and outpatients and a Special Care Nursery. She also works at Monash Medical … View Profile

    Agree with the above comments, that 2 and 4 is too young to understand the whys. I think it is important at this age for them to have lots of reassurance that it is not their fault. The “why” question can sometimes be a concern that it was because “I was naughty so Daddy doesn't want to live with me any more”. They sometimes need to be told again and again that it was not their fault, and then move onto “what next” in terms of plans to see Daddy or visit and how Daddy is still going to come to the end of year concert at kinder and their other concerns about the mechanics of it all.

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