Separation and divorce: What would happen if we change the language?



With divorce rates in Canada steadily increasing year-after-year, it’s time to consider how we look at separation and divorce, and how our children perceive it. Separation and divorce are often very ugly, leaving hurt exes rearing their angry heads suiting up for great big legal battles that they have no idea yet, may financially destroy them… yes, both of them. 

Divorce is such an ugly word. Like many other societal issues, divorce carries with it a certain stigma. As separation and divorce become more common, the stigma is slowly becoming less apparent (or maybe even “more gentle” if-you-will). That doesn’t mean that it becomes any easier, especially for the children involved. 

All too often I hear one parent or another use very colourful words to describe exes, they use tones of voice that just scream anger, and hurt, and resentment. Kids pick up on that. Even if you think that you’re “just saying it to a friend; the kids aren’t listening”—SPOILER ALERT—kids are ALWAYS listening!!

What would it be like to be gentle with ourselves? What would it be like to put hurt feelings aside (I realize that this may require professional help)? What would it be like to be slightly more gentle and more compassionate to your ex-significant-other (only to the extent that you have to change your language… but not your position on the other crappy things he/she (ex) has done)? 

By no means am I trying to minimize the excruciating emotional pain that often comes with divorce but merely suggesting a change in our family language hopefully leading to a change in perception about the situation, for the better. How do you think your kids would feel about being at school (say a parent-teacher interview) hearing their parent say… “I’m just waiting for theiiiiir dad <insert eye roll>.” Now imagine your child hearing “I’m just waiting for my ‘parenting partner’?

Terms such as: ex, deadbeat dad (or mom), yourrrrr father, <insert other nicknames here> carry such a negative connotation that the conversational tone has really already been set before the actual communication (or lack thereof) begins!! I’m not saying we all need to be happy and bubbly and have pet names for our dreadful exes. I’m merely suggesting that once separated, we refer to them with a neutral term such as ‘parenting partner’. By doing this, we not only set up a relatively neutral relationship as an example for our children, but we (our kids too) can see divorce and separation as something that happens as a family for the betterment of the family. The other good thing… when you meet someone new, the terminology doesn’t have to change—your ‘parenting partner’ will always be your ‘parenting partner’ no matter how blended families can possibly get. ‘Parenting partner’ suggests that both parents will continue to be involved—possibly one of the most important things for a child experiencing family break down… a sense of stability and consistency. Partnership also sounds long-term possibly suggesting to children that even though their parents are apart, they are BOTH in it with the kids long-term. 

If your child is struggling with separation or divorce, I encourage you to try changing your language surrounding the situation. Remember you’re the role model; you’re the adult; you get to set the tone for different conversations. Divorce and separation will never be easy, but maybe we can make it just a little less disruptive to our children by simply changing our language. 

I encourage you to really pay attention to the words you’re using, the picture you’re painting, and the impact it’s having on your children. 

For these, and other supportive parenting tips, feel free to contact one of our family counsellors with a parenting focus for a free consultation. 

This post was written by:

Chrystelle Crockford, BSc, MA (Couns Psyc) Candidate

T: 250-718-9291


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