Going through a divorce or separation as a parent is tough. You are not only dealing with your own roller-coaster of emotions from guilt to anger to sadness, but you also have to tell your children.
We have some great advice here on how and when to tell the kids you are separating.
And once that part is done, you need to work together to maintain consistency in their day-to-day lives and support your children, as you all transition into a different type of family.
Here are five Ms to help you support your children through separation:
Minimise the tension
Where possible, please try and keep a civilised relationship between you both. The conflict between parents is very upsetting for children and places them in a difficult and insecure environment leading to stress and anxiety.
Learn to bite your lip, let somethings go and keep any potential high conflict conversations to times when they are not there.
Make sure you reassure them
Change is unsettling, and children really need to know that you are both there for them and you love them and will both continue to care for them.
This is the most important message that you can give them.
Some children may feel it is their fault you are splitting up or fear that they will stop having a relationship with one parent or with both – make sure you reassure these are not the case.
And don’t forget you can provide reassurance with actions and not just words. Be civil, put a parenting plan in place and stick to it. And if family decisions need to be made, try and make them together.
Maintain routine and boundaries
Children, in fact, most of us need routine. It makes us feel safe, secure and a sense of belonging. So, to try and keep upset to a minimum, where you can, carry on with the usual activities and daily routines like school, clubs, friends and seeing family from both sides.
Things will be different, spending time in two separate houses, but the more normal the routine the better.
Manage your emotions
Of course, you feel awful, if it’s your decision or not, separation is really painful, and you will be battling with fear, anger, sadness and despair. But remember that divorce and separation are adult solutions to adult issues. Children simply do not understand what you are both going through.
It’s natural to feel upset and you must not hide your feelings but if you need to talk, seek support from a friend, family or counsellor. And don’t let your children see the worst of your fears and despair. It will just add to theirs.
Mind what you say to them
They don’t need to know all the details about why you have split. It’s okay to let them know that you are upset and that emotional reactions to what is happening is completely normal but do not expose them to negative emotions or get in a battle with your ex-partner and put the kids in the middle.
And never do anything that will damage their relationship with the other parent. Parental alienation is complex and has extremely far-reaching and damaging effects on all involved. You can read more here.
Some practical advice:
Bringing up children involves lots of decision making. Making these together will be beneficial not just to the children but also to your own relationship.
A written plan that is worked on by both parents and covers all the practical issues of parenting.
The plan will help you both to detail all the practical arrangements that need to be put in place to care for your children. By putting this in writing everyone knows what is expected and it helps to define a set routine and boundaries that can then be shared with the children.
You can download a sample parenting plan (sourced from Cafcass)
Wall planner / Google calendar
For younger children, prepare a child-friendly chart for the wall, which can help them understand when they will see their other parent, log activities and appointments. Dates can be difficult for a child to understand, so a chart helps them to feel a sense of control and add security.
For the more tech-savvy teenagers, Google Calendar is a great starting point as easy for everyone to access and you can share appointments quickly and easily. The whole family can also see at a glance what is happening that day.
There are hundreds of parenting apps out in the market. Most of them are US based however there are a couple that work globally. Some of the apps are free – others subscription.
2houses – this is mainly based around a Google calendar for the childcare arrangements but has sections for finance and expenses as well as the ability to share medical histories and photo albums.
Smart Coparent – like 2houses with a calendar sharing function, finance/payments, budget, chat/messaging.
A couple of the best from the US
AppClose – free to use, calendar, messaging, able to send requests to partner e.g. I want the kids this day, or we have an appointment someone needs to go to.
Fayr – again very similar to the above, same calendar, messaging and finance/payments functionality
There is no magic wand, no quick fix but with time, patience, acceptance and being mindful of the children’s needs and point of view, you can make the separation process as smooth as it can. And remember, time is a great healer and things will get better.
Get in touch
If you need any advice on divorce, separation and children law issues please do get in touch at the details below.
(Please note we do not endorse any of the apps mentioned in this article.)