Separation is a difficult process that can have a major impact on the wellbeing of parents and their children. As an adult, when you separate you may experience loss and changes (which may be wanted or unwanted) to your family unit.
While that is a lot to deal with don’t forget your children also need to adapt to what amount to huge changes, in their lives.
I always tell my clients it is not separation that hurts your children but how you separate. With that in mind I have written a series on how to separate and not (mentally and emotionally) F&%#k Up Your Children.
Below are some Top Tips to get you underway.
1. Be honest with your child
Children recognise when you are lying, don’t underestimate them. You need to be clear about the separation and be able to discuss it without unloading adult stuff onto your child.
Children don’t need to know the ins and outs of the adult issues. What they do need to know is enough information to get a basic understanding of the situation they are facing.
Remember when speaking to the child about the ‘why’ of the separation you are speaking about people they love with all their hearts.
Simply saying “sometimes adults fall out of love and families have to live in two houses but we are still going to be a family- we love you both” may be enough for the child.
If your child presses you for more detail you can say “It isn’t simple and there are a lot of reasons, what is important is we are still a family we will just have different houses we live in”
Remember every time you tell a child “daddy is a dirtbag who cheated on Mummy” or “Mummy stole all Dad’s money” you are overloading your child with emotional baggage they don’t need and you are saying things about someone they love with all their heart. This creates an unnecessary burden for your child to carry.
2. Explain it is not the child’s fault
Children whose parents separate are prone to projecting negative attitudes and behaviours to themselves. If you announce you are separating and only hours before lost your cool at your child bc they didn’t clean their room, they may well think “It’s my fault I wasn’t being good enough”
You can prevent this by simply telling the child “this is not your fault”.
Make sure you address any fears the child may have but don’t beat about the bush – you are separating and it’s a done deal. Being wishy washy risks giving the child false hope of reconciliation.
Keep it age appropriate and keep out the adult issues.
3. Explain what this means for the child
The reality of separation is your entire family needs to change their everyday routines. The child will be wondering what this means for them. They will be worried about their schooling, their friends, how will they see those friends and when, can they still do their after school activities? When will they see the “other” parent? Where will they live? Can they take their pet with them etc etc
Make sure you address;
Who is going to move and to where
Will there be a change in schooling?
Will the family be spending holidays together?
Can they still go to that planned activity/event with Mum/Dad that they were looking forward to?
When will they be seeing Mum/Dad?
4. Make a schedule
Your children will learn to adapt to a new routine and new living situations. Give them a push, encourage the adapting of a new schedule and make sure you create a consistent schedule.
Start working with your co parent on your care arrangements and stick to the plans you make.
Write it out for the children. Often a colour coded calendar can help children to see how many sleeps it is until they see the other parent and then how many sleeps until they return to you.
5. Keep calm and carry on
Separation is an emotional process. However, as a parent it is your responsibility to keep things in order and protect your child from adult issues and the emotional fall out from your separation.
If you are having problems regulating your emotions, seek outside help. This is a sign of strength not weakness.
Don’t rely on your children for emotional support, their job is to be children. They are not your shoulder to cry on.
6. Keep an eye on your child
No matter how well you manage explaining the separation and what this means, your work is not done there. You still need to keep an eye on your child for any negative changes in their behaviours. It can be the smallest things that will tell you something is wrong- bad marks at school, aggressive behaviour, mood swings etc.
If you notice anything that resembles non routine behaviour for your child, the starting point is to talk with them.
7. Stop arguing in front of the children
This should go without saying but, in my experience, it can’t be heavily emphasised enough. This is critical to your child’s emotional wellbeing.
Avoid all arguments (and cynical or snarky comments) with your ex in front of the children. There you go enough said. No seriously it does nothing for their wellbeing can be very hurtful for them to see someone they love being hurt or criticised or doing the hurting and criticising. It isn’t healthy or constructive. Just Stop It.