When you first separate from a partner it is natural and normal to feel emotional. You are experiencing a significant life change. In mediation we often see clients who are very emotional at their first meeting. Sometimes your emotion may spill out as soon as you get into the room. Other times you can keep a lid on your emotions until such time as we ask you about your children and how they’re coping with the separation. There can be guilt at making the decision to separate from a partner and what effect this may have on your children. There can also be a huge feeling of disempowerment when one party has not taken the decision to separate and feels they have no control over the effect this is having on their children. We are hardwired to protect our children from harm as far as possible and it can be gut wrenchingly awful to feel that you have taken a decision or been part of something that has upset your children.
Most research suggests that children do not suffer long term emotional, physical or behavioural problems as a result of their parents’ separation in itself. It is factors that stem from this such as being caught up in parental conflict, feeling that they are not able or free to have a relationship with both parents, or not being given information about what happens next.
By using mediation you can use the process to talk about all of the following (and more!):
- How and what you will tell your children about your separation.
- What arrangements are going to be made both in the short and the long term. It is really important to be able to explain to your children what changes they are going to experience and when these will happen. It can take time to map out what will happen in the longer term but being able to explain what changes will happen in the next few weeks, and that you will explain what other changes there will be once you have worked them out can be really reassuring. Be open to answering their questions in an age appropriate way and responding to their need to talk about what’s happening. Sheltering them from conflict does not mean withholding answers or information. It means ensuring the information you give is appropriate to their age and the fact that they are children of both of you.
- Issues between the two of you that are causing difficulties so that you can find a way forward. Where dispute between parents spills over and are lighting a huge fire is usually when children start to feel they are caught up in their parents’ conflict. If you are not able to have a conversation without it turning into an argument then you need to urgently think about how you can address this. Children are adept at picking up on tension and noticing what is happening – even when parents think they don’t know what’s taking place. They pick up on changes in the atmosphere, on the way their parents speak to each other and subtle changes in their environment and routine. Children need to know that they are loved by both parents, that the separation is not their fault, and that they are free and able to have a relationship with both parents. They are aware that they are products of both parents and that each parent is a part of them.
- Where children are struggling to come to terms with the separation you can both map out what steps it would be sensible to take to help them. This might include a change in how you’re both dealing with an issue. It might also include accessing outside help for your children through their school, your GP, or another agency or professional.
It can feel overwhelming when you’re faced with a separation. You are trying to make decisions about emotional, legal and financial issues whilst dealing with all the day to day challenges at the same time. You are doing your best but sometimes it feels like that isn’t good enough. In mediation you can break down each issue into manageable steps so that you can map out a plan as to what happens next and how you can work together to find a resolution that will work for both of you – and crucially your children.
There are some books for children that you may wish to look at if you’re concerned about how your child is dealing with the separation. These are:
Mum and Dad Glue
Jack and Black Cat
The Huge Bag of Worries
You may also find these websites useful: