Listening is key.
Parenting children is hard. That is just a fact. Parenting when you are going through a separation and no longer live with the other parent – well, that’s even harder. Looking after your own needs will be essential but usually the first thought that enters a parent’s mind when they are going through a separation is, how can I support my child?
Talking to your child or children (crucially without blaming your ex-partner) about what is going on will be important, but it’s actually even more essential to listen to them when they feel ready to talk to you. CAFCASS have highlighted the importance of listening on their website and state “this openness to hearing your child’s voice, even when your child might fear what he or she has to voice might be hurtful or upsetting, is the necessary step for your child to know it is acceptable and safe to feel all the upsetting, confusing and worrying feelings that they may have.” It is hard to acknowledge how your child feels without seeking to minimise it or brush the worries away (particularly when they may be hard for you to you hear) but if you can show your child you have understood and appreciated their worries without trying to minimise them this is very powerful.
Hopefully your child will want to talk to you about how they are feel and their worries, but if they don’t feel able to yet, they may wish to talk to someone else they trust. It is therefore important that the other adults in their lives know what is going on. Even though it may be difficult to share the reality of your situation, make sure that your child’s teacher or club leader knows what is going on at home.
As separated parents, you will need to make some decisions about how arrangements for your child will work going forwards. If you can have positive conversations, this will of course be of huge benefit to your child. But emotions can run high at times and, if you are unable communicate effectively, attending mediation can help. Mediation can also provide a way to support your child through the separation as Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM) provides a forum for your child to share their wishes and feelings about arrangements with a specially trained mediator. If both parents agree and if the child wants to become involved, the mediator will meet with the child and talk to them about their situation. Having someone impartial to open up to can make it easier for the child to be honest about things, without the fear of upsetting or disappointing anyone. We all know that sometimes children can be brutally honest – no, they do not like your new haircut or what was in their packed lunch that day – but when they know that their parents are upset and stressed, they will usually not want to add to that. This is where children will sometimes say things that parents want to hear. In CIM, the child agrees with the mediator what is fed back to their parents. This can help your child feel heard and help you as parents make the decisions that work best for them.
You may have had some tough conversations already. There may be more to come but if you can listen to your child and make them feel that you hear them, even when it’s difficult, you will be providing more support than you know.