As hard as we might try to keep our relationship healthy, at times it is better to separate and accept that happiness does not lie with your partner. When children are involved, separating adds a whole new level of difficulties and challenges for couples.
Separating is tough enough on its own, but being a parent means we are required to be in regular contact with our ex-partner whilst also dealing with the grief that separation often brings. This article is focused on giving some basic tools to help parent your kids safely through the initial separation. I am mindful that these strategies are best practice and may be difficult for many people to put into place whilst coming to terms with the end of the relationship. These are just guidelines to help you find a starting place with your co-parenting and not a definitive guide of must do’s. This stage is tough for everyone so don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself or beat yourself up if you don’t always get it right. Try and use these ideas as a starting point and then perhaps seek a counsellor who can help guide you through this difficult stage in your life.
Following are ten things you can do to help your kids transition well to their new life.
- Don’t parent with guilt. Most parents feel guilty that they are separating and not providing the ideal life for their children. That’s hard and an emotion that you need to work through, but don’t start parenting differently to make up for it. Keep discipline much the same, have the same routines as much as possible, the same expectations of the household.
- Don’t spoil your kids with presents to make up for the change in their life. This is especially true of the parent who has less custody (yep, I know, sometimes it is 50/50). Be careful not to become the weekend Santa Claus. It might bring a smile to their face but the reality is you are probably making the parenting job harder for both of you down the track. Spoil them with love instead, hugs and your time are good places to start.
- Don’t introduce new partners any time soon. If you have already started a new relationship, be careful to make sure your children are in a good space for further change before you try and bring new people in. There is no set time around this, it really depends on the children and many other factors.
- Don’t say mean things about the other parent. I know that can be really hard, even if you chose to separate, parenting together can cause all sorts of grievances for you to deal with. Share them with someone more appropriate, friend or counsellor is a good starting point.
- Further to point 4, don’t talk badly about the other parent to other people whilst the children are in earshot. Kids become very interested in what is happening in the adult’s world when things change and they somehow develop super hearing powers, so be aware of where they are when it is adult talk. Some people do this accidentally and some people do it intentionally, the result is the same, it hurts the kids.
- Don’t use the kids to send messages back and forth to each other. If you are on good terms and the kids know it, sure you can tell them to mention something to Mum or Dad, but don’t use them if there is tension. If you need to communicate and it is too tense to do so by phone or in person, email is a great way of keeping it safe for everyone and away from the kids. It’s also less invasive than constant texts.
- Don’t interrogate the children when they return from the other parent. This is really damaging and over time kids can start to get anxiety over visits, not because they don’t want to see the other parent but because they know one of you will expect answers and they don’t want to upset anyone so they start to choose their responses. This is not healthy for kids.
- Do ask them how their time with the other parent was, but keep it casual and short. Once they feel they can talk freely with no negative consequence to anyone, they will share information about how they spent their time naturally.
- Remember, they still love the other parent. They may not have had the best relationship or they may have had an awesome one, but either way they usually love both parents. Let them, it’s healthy for them to have both parents if it is possible.
- Try as much as possible to keep routines and rules similar in each house. This is easier of course if you are on good terms but regardless of your relationship with your ex, your kids will benefit and so will you.
Separation is tough on everyone, but all concerned can, and most likely will go on to form healthy, happy lives once the grieving has finished. The timing and success of this partly depends on how well the adults manage this transition for their kids. If in doubt, seek help in navigating this difficult life change.