Most parents agree their children's best interests come first - so why is it that these are often overlooked by their parents when their relationship goes sour? Why do some children sail through their parent's breakup and others remain scarred for a very long time? I have heard the following said: 'Approx one third of children after divorce are very well; one third are okay and one third are not okay.'
With the child experts unanimously agreeing that it is the way the parents approach their separation and divorce which will be the most crucially significant factor for the children's present and future emotional health, it is you and your partner's joint responsibility to do your best to ensure your children are 'very well' after your divorce.
How is the way you handle any conflict in your relationship affecting your children?
Are you able to put your anger aside or is it difficult to contain your frustration in front of the children? What would be the effect if you were to bad mouth the other parent to your children? How would they feel - torn, lost, confused, angry, sad, and guilty?
Are you able to put your anger aside to work out how you will continue to be parents or is it difficult to contain your frustration in front of the children? How do you think your child might feel if you bad-mouth one another in front of the children - torn, lost, confused, angry, sad, and guilty?
These are just two ways often well-meaning parents put their own need to vent their frustration and anger before their children's needs. Who wins when this happens? How might your child feel when - for probably for the first time in their life – their needs are considered to be secondary as you and your spouse put yourselves first as you try to get through your divorce? And how might your child react - by withdrawing; by striking out at friends and family; by losing interest in school and hobbies; by over-eating or losing their appetite?
What is the children's future in serious relationship breakdown?
The age of your children will largely 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. As a mother of three (now) teenage/grownup children who have emerged from a protracted divorce on a scale of between 'very well' and 'okay,' I urge you to ask yourself:
· Do I know my spouse's view about the children's future if we were to part?
· Can we discuss living/contact/residence arrangements together? Can we do so calmly?
· If not, why not? Who can help?
· Might it be easier for the children if we agree as far as possible over what is best for them?
· What are my children's needs? Where will they live? How will they spend time with each parent and other family members? List their needs.
· What are their wants? List them.
· Who is best able to provide for these?
· What effect will divorce have on them? How can we minimise these effects?
· What should we avoid doing? Make a list.
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:
· How old are the children? How much should they know and how much decision making can they be involved in?
· How can you tell them together?
· How can you explain the reasons for the breakdown: that you have not got on well for some time; you were once happy but we have now grown apart; you have tried to patch it up etc?
· How might you take it a step at a time and both keep them informed gradually, providing consistent information even if you are talking to them separately?
· Will telling them half-truths produce confusion and distrust? Might the truth, however painful, engender trust and security for your children?
· How have you assured the children that you are always there for their questions and to talk?
Limiting the emotional damage
· 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, it might it be helpful to ask the child to share their thoughts with you.
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, let them be the child.