Jill Smokler, the founder of the popular parenting website, Scary Mommy, says there was no doubt that she and her husband, Jeff Smokler, would be “very open and forthcoming” about their shocking split, which they announced on March 4. After 17 years of marriage, the couple shared their decision to divorce — because Jeff is gay.
But what scared them the most was preparing to tell their three kids — Lily 13, Ben, 11, and Evan 9.
“We were terrified to tell the kids,” Jill, 39, tells PEOPLE. “I was waiting for it to all come crumbling down once they knew and I was terrified of their responses.”
After speaking with a therapist, the couple decided the best approach was an honest one.
“We told our daughter first,” Jill says. “Jeff did most of the talking and he just started with, ‘We haven’t been happy for awhile.’ He told her about the separation and that the reason why is because he’s gay. Her immediate response was to get up and give him a great big hug and tell him how much she loved him.
“I still get chills when I think about it — it was just such a compassionate and mature response. I was so afraid of her immediate response being angry or embarrassed — just anything negative — but it wasn’t.”
The couple then told their two sons.
“We told our sons immediately after and conveyed the same message to all three that the conversation isn’t over,” says Jeff, 39. “And that Mommy and Daddy are going to be happy now and happier people make better parents.”
In the months leading up to their discussion with their kids, Jill and Jeff made the necessary preparations to ease their kids into the transition.
“We spent the last three months getting ready,” says Jeff. “We bought a separate home about three miles away from the family house.
“We felt like it was really important that by the time we told the kids, not only did Jill and I have to be emotionally ready and equipped to handle their needs, but we needed to have answers to questions about day-to-day logistics.”
The kids now stay with Jeff three nights a week and their daily routine has remained relatively unchanged. And in the few weeks since breaking the news, Jill and Jeff say they already see a positive difference in their family dynamic.
“Last night I made dinner with the kids at my new house,” Jeff says. “And we FaceTimed with Jill and I sent her a video of the dinner we had. We’re operating like the other still exists, even if we’re not in the same house.”
“The kids want us to be happy,” he adds. “I think they understand that they’re going to be happy if we’re happy. They’re doing really well. They have their moments of sadness and being quiet, but they also know that they can talk to us about anything.”
Adds Jill, “We will still have family dinners. We will still go on family vacations. We will still be a family, it’s just a different kind of family.”