When you realise your relationship has broken down one of your immediate worries may be what effect the separation will have on your children. If your parents separated then this may bring up additional worries, as you may have had a negative experience of your parents’ separation. Or it may bring pressures to recreate the more peaceful separation your parents had when you were younger.
It’s important to remember that your children can pick up on conflict between the two of you, and be affected by it, regardless of whether they are a babe in arms, or an adult with children of their own (and every age in between). Children often pick up on more than their parents realise. They are hard wired into what is happening because they instinctively know that changes in their caregivers may affect them. They may therefore pick up on changes in routine, in the way you speak to each other, or even a different atmosphere in the house. They may also start to ask questions or to try to ‘seek out’ information by asking more subtle questions or trying to listen in to conversations when you think they are out of the room.
Bringing children into adult disputes can be harmful for them. Many children of separated parents express a wish that their parents wouldn’t talk negatively about each other. They know that they are made up of both of you and if one of you now hates the other, what does that mean for them? This may start an internal dialogue of thoughts as they struggle to make sense of things. They may not have the words or the life experience to express what they’re feeling, and so any internal conflict may manifest itself simply as changes in their behaviour. They may be more clingy than usual, or withdrawn, or they may be angry or raging.
You know your children best so you are the best people to put in place arrangements for them. This may be one of the things that you can quickly agree on. Or you may find discussions problematic because you’re coming at things from different angles. In which case talking about things in family mediation can be really helpful. It’s a safe place where you can each express your views and look at different options to see what they’ll look like. The mediator can provide you with information and ideas you may not have thought of which will then enable you to put in place arrangements for your children including a process for reviewing the arrangements at what feels like the right, or a needed time.
There are no perfect arrangements for children when their parents separate. They simply need the following:
1. To be reassured they are loved by both parents.
2. To know they can continue to have a relationship with both parents and that both parents are completely on board with this.
3. To know what changes will be happening for them. If you’re not sure what the changes might be yet then say so, but answer any questions that they may have in an age appropriate way, without laying any fault at the other parent’s door.
4. To know that the separation was not their fault and that no amount of not fighting with their sibling, or keeping their bedroom tidy would have changed the current situation.
The most important things are to ensure that your children are reassured and that they are not caught up in any conflict between their parents. The arrangements you put in place should be ones that will work for you and your family, and provided you are able to do this no one else will interfere with them.
It can be confusing to know what you need to do, so taking advice from a lawyer, or getting information from a family mediator, can help you to understand what you need to do. If you’d like more in depth guidance on making arrangements for your children as part of your separation then you can download a video webinar together with a workbook that will talk you through making those arrangements step by step. Have a look at our online shop.
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