In this blog Kim discusses ways to maintain a positive relationship after a separation or divorce.
I have been asked many times from worried Mums and Dads, “will our separation damage our child?” “what can we do to protect our children?” Most parents are doing the very best they can for their children.
Research shows that it’s not the separation or divorce itself which impact negatively on the children, it is the conflict and argument that can arise between parents that cause the children anxiety and distress.
For young children they sense the heightened emotion and react with distress to the tone of raised or angry voices. Older children can become a communication channel, a way of exchanging messages and complaints between parents. Children may feel they have to keep switching sides to keep each parent happy and they can become confused and upset and unable to concentrate at school or their sleep pattern may be disturbed.
It is so important to protect children by ensuring communication between parents is respectful and thoughtful of the other parent. Sometimes it is necessary and helpful to have a third person to facilitate the difficult conversations that arise from planning separation and divorce. Often when a marriage or relationship breaks down one parent might distance themselves emotionally and the other needs time to catch up. This dynamic often adds to the tension and makes it difficult to see each other’s perspective.
In the early stages of separation and divorce, a Family Consultant can be helpful. This is a time when emotions can be very raw and having a space in which to talk helps pave the way for the legal process. A Family Consultant can also help plan how, what and when to tell the children about the separation. The Family Consultant can anticipate the couple’s different post separation or divorce life, to help to prepare the parties for new relationships and changes to family life that the children may find difficult.
It can be tough to rise above the hurt and anger but it really is possible to remain focused on your role as supporting parents through this process.
If you have decided to formally separate or to get a divorce, then mediation or the collaborative process will help ensure that you and your former partner keep talking to one another. You will have an opportunity to talk about what is important for your children and for yourselves and tell your story in your own way. Acknowledging the emotional side of separation promotes movement towards reaching an agreement. The more bitter the divorce, the less likely that you and your former partner can be consistent in your parenting and remain respectful to one another. It may even help you remain friends.
Mediation and the Collaborative process, are ways of resolving disputes to avoid the traditional court process. These processes ensure that your children stay at the centre of discussions. They will offer support to you and your former partner to find solutions for your family and help you work out your plans for the future.
Family Consultants can also be an important part of mediation and collaborative process to manage the inevitable emotional challenges separation and change will create.
Here are ways of ensuring you and your former partner manage your ongoing relationship in a positive and constructive way:
- Just say a little bit of what you’re thinking – your former partner needs to know how you are, but not all the details as it may bring up old unresolved conflicts.
- Resolve conflict in a positive way – it might be necessary to compromise, to acknowledge events that have happened and to apologise. Sometimes it can help to keep discussions in a business like manner and ensure they stay respectful.
- Create a Parenting Plan – it can cover day to day issues,the school holidays, significant days such as birthdays, Christmas, Easter, other religious holidays and Mothers and Fathers days. The greater the conflict in the relationship the more detailed the plan needs to be. It may help to seek professional help to do this.
- Be kind to one another – children need to feel safe and loved and they will feel more secure if they have a sense of you still caring about their Mum or Dad.
- Your relationship needs a good ending – try to remember what attracted you to each other and the good times you’ve had.
- Remember your relationship as a couple is ending but you are beginning a new co-parenting relationship – it can help you to think of the other parent as your parenting partner rather than your former partner. You are still a family but just in a different shape.
Continue some of your family rituals – your children will appreciate it later in life.
In the vast majority of cases, maintaining a friendship with your co-parent will help you to find the most creative and workable solutions for you and your family. It will allow you to integrate your past with the present and help you to prepare for the future. Don’t underestimate what value the support of a Family Consultant can add to achieve your objectives for the sake of you and, significantly, your children.