After a short hiatus, I am back with part 4 of my 10-part series, Life After Separation.
As I sit waiting for a flight, looking and watching people, families either excited to start their holiday or happy for the holiday they have had. To my left there is a family of 4. A girl, a boy and their Mums. It’s hard to tell if it is the beginning or the end of their adventure.
It’s just me at the airport. Not with my husband or partner, and that is semi okay. My story is a little different and complicated. But for some, travelling alone is just one part of managing the loss of the family unit after separation.
Regulating day to day emotions can be a struggle. Where there are children of a marriage or de facto relationship, the feelings that come with the loss of that family unit can be harsh, especially where children may live primarily with one parent and see less of the other parent. One day it’s a family unit of children and parents, the next it can be the children and one parent. We need to manage the expectations of our children, but we can’t forget about the emotions of the parent who no longer says good night to their children every day.
As a family lawyer we need to balance the requirement to provide legal advice to our client and listen to their reality, that is the loss of their family unit. Empathy v legal advice.
I was facilitating a parenting mediation yesterday and whilst the parents had ended their relationship, both were conscious that their daughter does not endure the emotional impact that the separation has had on them. Mum and Dad were visibly upset when talking about their little one and what parenting arrangements would be in her best interests. For example, the special time on Christmas Day is one of the toughest discussions to have. The family unit that spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning together doesn’t exist after separation. Children are shared and the special days at Christmas are divided.
I remember my first Christmas Eve and Christmas Day without my children. Needless to say, there were tears and a deep feeling of loss and emptiness. Does it get better – no! It get’s a little easier. And that is the only advice we can give to our clients. But it is not going to make them feel better at that time.
The special time at Christmas is only one example of the struggles parents may face when the family unit they once had is broken. The quietness of the household on a school night can be a lonely time. There is no ‘legal advice’ that a family lawyer can provide to that client to make it better. Maybe a little encouragement to reach out to friends and family, or find a sport or activity that they once did but gave up because life was so busy, they didn’t have time for themselves.
The loss of the family unit after separation highlights the importance for adults in a relationship to retain a level of independence and not allow the relationship or being a parent define them. I say that whilst acknowledging this can be difficult for some. But all we can do is try.