Separation is not an easy time for anybody, but is especially difficult when children are involved. Although you or your partner may have called time on your relationship, you are still potentially going to have to keep on communicating and negotiating around parenting issues, child care agreements and appear socially together for future family events such as christenings, graduations and weddings. Research shows that separating well means better outcomes for all of the family.
It can be a turbulent time for all involved in the aftermath of a separation. Feelings are raw, and you or your partner may struggle to contain this emotionally and with your behaviour whilst you both are coming to terms with the loss of your relationship and navigate around the practical issues.
Although it can be impossible to always avoid arguing in front of your child, try to move on from stuck conversations about previous issues and focus your discussions on practical and parenting issues. If you do have conflict in front of your child, try to reach a compromise point so your child can see you are working towards a more positive place.
Leave “the grown-up stuff” to the grown-ups and allow your child to be a child, rather than a replacement partner, mediator or best friend. Work together towards reaching a place where you can put your own feelings aside for the good of your child, especially around contact issues. Try to be positive about the other parent when talking to your child and give your child reassurance that although the family is no longer together, your child is still very loved by both parents.
If at all possible, try to negotiate on the main aspects of parenting so that your child does not play one parent off against the other. However, part of the change may be in supporting your child through the process of experiencing differences between each parent’s home and two sets of rules and boundaries. If you are struggling to communicate with your ex partner about this on your own, consider asking a neutral third person to help facilitate these conversations or consider mediation.
Be aware that children quickly learn to say what they think a parent wants to hear to avoid hurting their feelings, so try not to use your child as a go between. Your child will also be coming to terms with change, loss and a mixture of feelings. They may show sadness, confusion and anger towards either parent as they start to try and make sense of it. Each child may react differently, within a different time scale and use different coping strategies. If family life leading up to separation has been particularly acrimonious, your child may appear more settled now than before, as continuous conflict or a negative atmosphere can be exhausting and detrimental for all involved.
Consider whether counselling would be useful to either yourself or your child as support through this process. Separation counselling can be useful in helping couples to seek closure on their relationship and working towards healthy communication as parents.
Remember not to forget the importance of grandparents and other family members in regards to keeping in contact and in giving your child a sense of belonging and family.
Sometimes a break up can get very messy – there may be power imbalances, a history of domestic abuse, or safety concerns for either of the parents or the child. In these cases it may be useful to gain support through local services and support groups in order to manage the break up, parental visits and hand-overs in a safe and consistent way.
For advice on all aspects of separation and parenting take a look at the Relate website for further information and signposting.
Elizabeth works for Relate Lincolnshire as a Clinical Supervisor, Couple & Family Counsellor, Psychosexual Therapist & Sex Addiction Specialist. She has been trained by the Relate Institute, Institute of Family Therapy and Association for the Treatment of Sex Addiction & Compulsivity. She is a member of the professional bodies of COSRT, BACP & ATSAC. She has worked with a wide variety of clients and has a wealth of experience.