Child-centred advice for parents who separate or divorce
Parental separation is a traumatic event for a child or young person. No matter how difficult a parental relationship has been the decision to separate will raise numerous emotions, insecurities and doubts for the children involved.
Parents going through a separation have to deal with their own feelings of isolation, despair, guilt and a loss of confidence, depression, loneliness, grief but must also strive to help their children adjust properly to the changes involved.
When parents separate Children can experience loss and grief and often can feel insecure and angry. This is a normal and acceptable response to any major loss which need not be detrimental to their future development. Children who cope constructively can become more self-accepting, more mature and clearer about their values and goals in life.
Children often feel that they are somehow to blame for the separation and it is crucial that they are reassured that they are absolutely are not to blame.
Most children are aware that their parents are experiencing difficulties in their relationships, before they learn about a possible separation. They can become aware of problems in a range of different ways, including conflict between their parents and their parents spending little time together.
However when the reality of separation occurs some children are surprised and shocked that this is happening
What our goals as parents should be
- To reduce children’s experience of conflict.
- To ensure that children know that their relationship with both parents remains the same that both parents continue to love them – that this will not change.
- To increase their experience of compromise and resolution, through modelling this behaviour.
- To ensure that children retain as much parental contact with both parents as possible including extended family contacts.
- Recognise that separation cannot and does not end the shared parenting role and responsibilities as a parent.
- Other than in situations where there is actual violence, abuse or the realistic expectation of such, separated parents have a responsibility to maintain at least a working relationship with each other.
- Recognise the vital role that both parents have to play and their child’s right to maintain a full relationship with both parents.
- Understand that unfounded allegations about child abuse, neglect or poor child care by either parent are most confusing and damaging to children and always counterproductive for parents.
- Talk openly and honestly with their children about separation and encourage children to discuss their feelings and concerns.
- Explain what is happening in an age appropriate way, avoiding blaming the other parent but being honest.
- Tell children it is not their fault and that both parents still love them, and that they are not being rejected or abandoned.
- Avoid probing children about the other parent.
- Never criticise the other parent in front of children, force their children to take sides or be used by either parent as a means of retribution or of hurting one another.
- Allow and facilitate their children to continue to love their other non-resident parent – even if they don’t like them.
- Avoid arguing in front of children – they make arrangements (or express anger) when children can’t hear or see them.
- Make arrangements for access directly with the other parent, communicate directly in relation to all child care areas and never use children as the go-betweens or messengers
- Recognise that when arrangements are made, they should be made well in advance, that children are kept informed of these arrangements and that both parents stick to them.
- Recognise that children need their love, encouragement and support and do not overload them with emotion and “spoiling” them. They will keep the relationship real.
- Put their children’s welfare and needs before their own or any new partner.
- Share information with the other parent about their children and agree basic house rules.
- Will behave appropriately so that their children are not subjected to angry scenes before or after access visits.
- Allow children time for readjustment. The acknowledgement of your own sense of loss and sadness is one way of facilitating your children in coming to terms with their own feelings.
- Never lose sight of the positives with the relationship even if it’s over. Allow your children to acknowledge these and to remember them.
- Allow and encourage children to talk positively about a spouse/partner even though you may have negative feelings towards them.
- Reassure your children that both parents love them and that this was your decision and they are not to blame.
- Remember your feelings towards your partner can greatly effect your children. Bitterness and anger can hurt your children. It is really important that children are allowed respect both parents.
- Never force your child to choose between parents or take sides.
- Separation and its immediate aftermath is almost always a difficult time for children. Where possible parents should endeavour to ensure that children have as little as possible other dislocation or change. Where possible children should remain in the same house and community, siblings should be together as much as possible.
- Children will be more loving and accepting of parents who allow them more choice and options.
It Helps to…
- Put aside time to listen to your children, even if you are feeling rushed, tired, irritable, preoccupied or upset.
- Encourage your children to talk about their feelings about the separation.
- Try to listen when your child is behaving or acting badly as they might be trying to tell you they are feeling sad too.
- Be wary of making promises unless you are sure you can keep them.
- Respect your children’s right to privacy if they won’t talk, they may be willing to talk if you give them time.
- Some children may experience serious long-term difficulties as a result of parental separation. In such cases it is necessary to explore professional therapeutic options for them.
Provided by “ISPCC” Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children www.ispcc.ie
For advice/ Support ISPCC Support Line (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm) 01 676 7960 Childline – 24hours a day 1800 66 66 66 / www.childline.ie