It is an obvious fact that separation will change your family but often people focus on the big changes rather than the smaller ones that can feel significant. You may also each feel differently about how your family is changing and it’s important to recognise this. One person may feel more positive about the changes than the other, for instance. In this four part blog series we are going to walk you through how your family might be changing and give you some tips for making this as peaceful as possible, as well as looking at how to support your children during these changes.
In this first part we are looking at noticing the little things and there may be some smaller changes that you have not thought about and, from a mediator’s perspective, these little things can trigger big emotional reactions but often people have not considered how emotional they might be.
In a family where the parents aren’t separated it is natural to hold a space for each parent when they’re not there. So if one parent is at work and won’t be back until later there might be discussions about when that parent will be back, and whether the children might be in bed. There might also be discussions about what you might do at the weekend. If the other parent is away for some reason you might talk about what they’re doing and again when they will be back. When parents separate this changes. It is of course not the case that each parent will stop mentioning the other, but the natural pull to include them in family life, even when they’re not present, is naturally lessened. Where the children will spend a greater amount of time with one parent it can be useful to consider how you will hold space for the other parent. It may be that there will be a daily/twice weekly/weekly call with children, to help maintain that relationship and so that parent holds space for themselves during that moment.
You may also consider any of the following:
- Sharing photos of particular moments or pieces of work with the other parent and talking about “let’s share this with mummy or daddy as I know they’d love to see it”
- Ensuring your children know they can talk about the other parent at any point without fear of the conversation being shut down or it causing you pain or irritation
- Writing letters to the other parent can be a great tool for children who are keen to practice their writing skills – and lovely for the other parent to get letters that aren’t bills or junk mail!
- Emails or texts can be a more useful tool for older children (if they’re on a tablet or phone anyway why not do something more constructive!)
It’s also important to consider yourself as the parent facilitating this. Do you feel able to hold space for this other parent? If asked to do this what emotions come up in you? If you feel irritated or emotional then chances are your children will pick up on this despite your best efforts. This is not a criticism of you – it’s just children notice a lot and they are hard wired into noticing changes in their caregivers because it affects them. Consider what support you might need to enable you to be the parent that holds a space for the other parent for your children. Having people to talk to and to help you let off steam can be useful. If you feel you have unresolved emotions around the separation then it may be useful to work through this with a professional such as a therapist.
Another significant change is getting used to being at home without your children. This can be something a parent has never done, or only done rarely. Or it may be something that happened relatively frequently. Even where it has happened often before it can still be an adjustment. Coming home to your children being asleep is one thing but you could at least stand in their room, give them a kiss and see them. Coming home to an empty place that is how you left it that morning can be like a grief all on its own. Your home that is filled with noise and toys everywhere during the week can feel quiet and eerily still at the weekend when children are with their other parent.
Ask yourself how you feel about your children going to the other parent’s house? What will you do when they are there? If you feel you may feel sad then it can be helpful to plan activities for the first few times – and to see family or friends. It can also help to reassure your children that when they ask if you’ll be OK you can say yes I am going for a coffee with a friend, or auntie Sarah/Uncle Ryan and I are off to the cinema.
It can also be reassuring to talk about how you will share information about your children. If you’re not seeing them every day then how will you know what they did at school, whether they were not keen to eat their lunch again, whether they had another argument with a friend. These are all things you may have heard about on a daily basis and talking about how you will ensure you are both aware of these situations can help to alleviate concerns about such things.
One of the great things about family mediation is that it is a place to express your fears and concerns. Some of them may be seen as small or irrational but mediation is a place to talk about anything that is bothering or worrying you. Getting these things out into the open so you can both understand what is making the other anxious enables you to address these and to establish practices around holding space for each other and sharing information, and to talk about how you will each deal with times when your children are with the parent.
If you’d like more information about mediation then please contact us. You can also sign up to our free mailing list, or access our free community of support via the closed Soulful Separation support Facebook group.