The children's best interests come first so why do they so often get overlooked when their parents' relationship turns sour? Could it have a bearing on why some children sail through their parents' breakup whilst others remain scarred for a very long time?
Child experts unanimously agree that the most significant factor for the children's future emotional health is the way their parents approach their separation and divorce with approximately one third of children after divorce staying very well; one third being okay and the remaining one third not okay.
It’s clear then that if you’re facing a relationship breakup it’s you and your partner's joint responsibility to do your best to ensure your children fall into the 'very well' category after your divorce, but how do you keep behaving like a responsible parent when you’d actually much prefer to be the child at times? Coping with divorce can be a challenging time, so it is so important you get the right divorce advice.
This title is from Susie Orbach's book 'Emotional Literacy’ where the author writes about the advantages parents with contact - especially fathers - can have in developing different but also better relationships with their children after divorcing:
'There is plenty of evidence now that fathers (particularly) who are able to hold onto their kids in the face of very real difficulties may be having a far richer experience of what it means to be a father than they did when they lived with their children. Instead of having to rely on a relationship with the mother, taking the relationship for granted, fitting in with and being helpful, they now share time and create their relationship with the child directly. They get to know their children and themselves in ways which extend them rather than slot them into the limited framework in which they may have related before.'
I take my hat off to male clients who seek out divorce advice and successfully work hard at developing a great, often even better relationship with their children than they had before divorce. This isn’t always easy as their own nurturing skills may have taken a back seat to the mother’s. Often success is down to recognising the need for and wanting a different relationship to the one they had before. Crucially, they may also have to cope with divorce and come to terms with their own loss and anger without drawing their children into this. They make it a top priority to maintain the relationship with their children, despite ups and downs along the way.
It's a different perspective and one which I’ll sometimes suggest to parents pre-divorce, especially when they simply can’t see how their relationship with their children can be anything other than diminished or even wrecked with divorce.
The way you handle conflict with your (soon to be ex) spouse directly impacts on your children. Well-meaning parents stressed by relationship breakdown all too often put their own need to vent their frustration and anger before their children's needs, but at what price to the children?
How much are you able to put your anger aside when you try and work out how you will continue to parent? How difficult is it to contain your frustration in front of the children? What do the children feel when you bad mouth the other parent - confused, angry, sad, and even guilty?How might they feel when for probably for the first time in their life their needs are trampled on as you try to work through your divorce? Is it any wonder they might react by withdrawing, by hitting out, playing truant, or getting ill?
The age of your children will determine what they can or should be told and how much their views should be taken into account when planning for separation and divorce. With some careful thought you can foresee and overcome many of the difficulties which can affect families with children. Try asking yourself:
There will come a time when you need to tell the children what is happening, if you haven't already done so.
Here are some tips on what to think about:
Children need to know they will always be safe and cared for, that their parents will always be their parents. Reassure them that it is not their fault. Keep showing them they are loved by both parents, very much: that even if we don't want to live together as parents any more does not mean that we don't want to live with them. Family will always be their family even if we don't always live in the same house.
If a child is hiding their feelings about the conflict, make it clear they can share their thoughts with you at any time. Family conflict will always be a part of them and their history, but it need not be a sad or bitter part if both parents can work together to put the children's interests at the heart of any discussion about their future.
Act like the parent you want them to see and let them be the child.
To speak with Kirsten for individual divorce advice, view her profile.
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