Last week I wrote about managing mutual friendships after separation. This week, I wanted to look at managing our children’s emotions and needs after separation.
It is difficult to know whether children expect their parents to separate because they see the unhappiness or conflict, or whether it comes or came as a surprise. Some children are more verbal than others, and have no difficulty expressing their sadness, frustrations or anger. Then there are others who suffer in silence. As a parent we don’t like to watch our little ones suffer. Often the decision to separate from the other parent is put on hold because of the perceived impact to our children. But in the long run, is that the best decision for our children?
Children need healthy and happy parents to flourish and meet their potential. Isn’t it important that our children grow up observing a healthy loving marriage as opposed to ‘best friends’ living together. Children ‘learn’ behaviour, they aren’t born knowing what to do. If there are no displays of affection, laughter, kindness and love etc, the traits to a happy and healthy relationship, what are we teaching our children about those relationships and how to make it work.
Another example is if a child observes their parents constantly fighting and arguing, what does that child learn? I am not in any way an expert in domestic and family violence therapy, however, enough has been written about the generational impact on children from a domestically violent household. It is or can be cyclic and learned engrained behaviours.
So, after having ‘segwayed’ from the topic, when a separation occurs how do we manage our children’s emotions and needs. I think it’s important to try and talk to them in a child appropriate way and there in-lies a difficulty. Often, we aren’t trained to have these discussions, especially in circumstances where there are high levels of distress and anxiousness in a child. I have seen the result of those difficult conversations in my family law clients and in the parenting mediations I have facilitated. Complaints are made that the children have been ’manipulated’ or are ‘aligned’ with one parent because of the post-separation discussions between the children and the parent. Blame, anger and hurt can be at the forefront of a parent’s mind when they talk to their children about how they are coping after separation. It can be a silent subconscious curse. That parent believes they are working through the child’s pain coming from the separation – a separation they perhaps believe was caused solely by the other parent.
Solicitors and parents are not generally qualified to provide therapy, so why do it to our most precious loved ones. I initially wrote about the 5-stages of grief and how it applies to a relationship breakdown. A separation is the loss of a relationship. A parental separation is a ‘loss’ for a child or children. Why wouldn’t we manage their grief similarly to the way an adult manages their grief. Obtain qualified professional help for your children where appropriate. When telling your children about a separation, where you can, do it together. Where this is not possible and it is appropriate, ask a counsellor to help explain the decision. Get it right from the beginning.
When it comes time to decide about your children, do not involve them! It is an adult dispute and they do not need the burden or knowledge of that dispute. The separation is hard enough for them. Routine and consistency is beneficial. They need their extended family and friends. Minimise change as best as you can and most importantly, give them LOVE. A child can never have too many people in their life that love them.