Creative Divorce’s Family Consultant Suzy Power looks at how best to support your children through separation and divorce.
For most couples who are struggling with their relationship, children are the overriding concern when considering the possibility of separating. All parents worry about the effects of parental separation on their children and the prospect of an uncertain future for the children can exacerbate the trauma of the decision-making. The most common question I am asked is “will they be ok?”.
There are certain key things that all parents can commit to, which can really help their children through the period of separation and beyond.
- It’s crucial not to fight with each other. If you can’t do that, you need to ensure that children are protected from any future conflict. Conflict is damaging for everyone and particularly for children. If you say to your children that when you separate there won’t be any more fighting, then it’s important to keep your promise.
- Give your children an understanding as to what’s happening. Children generally want a simple straightforward explanation of what’s going to happen rather than being kept in the dark.
- Respond to their questions when they’re ready to ask rather than overloading them with too much information at the outset.
- Acknowledge that this is likely to be a sad/difficult/tricky time for everyone and that you will both be there for them to work things out and listen to their worries.
- Children need to be able to spend time with each of you knowing that you’re both comfortable with this arrangement. This means the children can go between you without having to worry about divided loyalties or keeping secrets.
- Retain as much continuity as possible – school, activities, sports, friends and grandparents can all provide a sense of stability.
- Make sure you have plenty of support yourself, whether from friends or professional help from a counsellor. It can be hard helping your children when you’re feeling stressed and emotionally drained, so anything you can do to keep yourself strong will help the children too.
I am a great advocate of mediation and the collaborative process for parents going through separation as these processes keep the channels of communication open and support parents in focusing on the needs of their children as they work out future arrangements. In my experience, this tends to result in outcomes that work better in meeting the long term interests of all family members rather than those reached through litigation. Where collaborative law and mediation are appropriate, they offer the best opportunity for parents to find solutions that work well for everyone and for them to reach lasting and constructive arrangements regarding their children’s wellbeing.