In this instalment of Stowe guests, we are joined by Sheila Turner and Philippa Johnson from Turner & Johnson Mediation.
Based in central London, Sheila Turner and Philippa Johnson offer families a professional and sensitive mediation service, working alongside other professionals including legal advisers, as appropriate, to help couples to identify alternatives to going to court.
Today we are joined by Sheila as she gives some valuable advice on how to tell the children you are separating and what to say afterwards.
There is no question this is a really difficult conversation to have; you are probably dreading it. Nothing will make it ‘easy’ but here are some guidelines that should help to make it a less traumatic experience for all of you.
Most importantly tell your child together
If you have more than one child tell all the children together as an entire family – even if you want to be a million miles away from your co-parent you need to show your child that you can still present a united front. Every time you want to convey a piece of information always start the sentence, “Dad/Mum and I have discussed ************** and we both think that we should try ******”. It helps children to deal with their changing circumstances when they feel that both parents have made the decision to separate.
Discuss with your ex-partner a clear and simple narrative explaining why your relationship has broken down and stick to the agreed narrative. Too many details will only muddy the waters and can often be information overload. However, the older the child the more questions you will be asked. Try to be as honest as possible without criticising your co-parent as the child will take this criticism personally and hear it as criticism about them.
Explain that you are still both your child’s parents and that just because you will be living in two separate homes that doesn’t mean that you are not still a family. Your child’s sense of family is really important.
Keep information short and concise.
Your child will not want to hear the emotional bits around the edge. He or she will only be interested in what is happening to them. Much better to answer questions as they come up rather than bombard your child with too much information. You should expect to have many more conversations with your child over the coming months – stick to the agreed narrative whether you are together or on your own with your child.
Make sure that you say very clearly that this is a grown-up problem and not in any way the children’s responsibility. You may well feel that an honest narrative involves blame – but blame won’t help your child, who needs to love and respect both of you and if blame is flying around your child is most likely to blame him or herself.
It is OK to say that you don’t know the answer to a particular question but you will need to reassure your child that once a decision has been made WE will talk about it with you.
Let your child deal with the conversation as they want to.
Be prepared for an emotional response and acknowledge that this is a very difficult time for everyone – equally, it may be that your child closes down and doesn’t want to talk to you about their emotional response then and there. That too is OK. Take your lead from the child.
It is normal for children to want their parents to be back together. They might engineer occasions when this happens, poor behaviour at school, the school calls both parents in to discuss, mystery illness etc. The sooner you can get to a good working co-parenting relationship so that your child knows that you are working together for them, the better.
If you are considering mediation, as part of the mediation process children aged 10 and over (and sometimes younger) are invited to speak to a specially trained family mediator, to discuss how they are feeling, if anything can be done better or what might be difficult for them. With the child’s permission, the mediator will feedback to the parents the messages that their child wanted the mediator to pass on. In our experience children enjoy these meetings; many say that they liked being given the chance to explain what is important to them.
Sheila Turner & Philippa Johnson
Turner & Johnson Mediation