Parenting is one of life’s joys, but at the same time is one of life’s challenges. Parenting during separation and divorce is perhaps more of a ‘challenge’ than a ‘joy’. The breakdown of any significant relationship is one of the most difficult grief events many of us will ever experience. It is therefore no wonder that parenting during your divorce can be one of the most significant challenges you will face.
The challenge of course is that children are also experiencing grief during a relationship breakdown. Depending on their age, temperament and understanding, they will of course deal with your divorce in very different ways. Divorce is a chance for a new beginning. The difficulty is that for many families, and particularly children, that new beginning is not expected, planned or chosen.
A colleague far wiser than me often says to separating parents- ‘Children get the parents in life they are given and not necessarily the ones that they need’. As parents we should always do our best to be the parents that our children need in any situation and not necessarily just the ones they were given. This is particularly so during divorce when our children will need so much from us and when we may ourselves be struggling to support them.
So, if you find yourself in this situation, here are a few things that you can do to support your children during divorce:
- Don’t involve your children in matters between you and your former partner: Children do not need to know, and in most cases cannot even understand, the issues that would have led to the end of your marriage. There’s every chance that you don’t know either. Reassure your children that you both love them and they will continue to be a priority in your life. Seek professional assistance with your own emotions and do not impart your own feelings upon your children.
- Be careful what you say about your former partner: We are all the biological products of our parents. We all understand that we are in essence half our mother and half our father, and perhaps children understand this better than anyone. By denigrating a child’s mother or father, you are at the same time slighting that child. This will cause harm to your children, and affect their capacity to grow into emotionally healthy adults.
- Provide a consistent routine: There’s something to be said for all of us as human beings for a level of consistency and routine in our lives. This is so important during a separation. If children living between two households have the benefit of consistency of routine between those homes, they will have the best chance of feeling a sense of security, enabling them to enjoy all of the benefits of being a child. Your households do not need to be the same, nor do your parenting styles, but consistency with routines will promote security and reassure your children when so much is changing in their lives.
- Shelter your children from conflict: Shelter your children from any arguments and disputes between you. Don’t them in the position of having to make decisions about things such as the time they will spend between you- they will feel torn and will often tell you things that they think you will want to hear to try and appease you and make you happy. They behave this way to try and show their love for you. Speak with your partner about how you might each manage difficult conversations with your children so that you are presenting your children with consistency and creating the security and boundaries that they need to grow and develop to their full potential.
Perhaps the most important thing to do to really help your children at this difficult time is to pause and really consider what it is that your children need from you. You know them better than anyone. The chances are that what they actually need might be different from what you want or what you hoped for or even from what you are feeling.
As a divorce lawyer I have met many parents who have spoken to me about how their divorce was an opportunity for them to be better parents, to be more involved and to spend more time with their children than they may have been able to in the past. Divorce and separation are challenging times for all involved, but it is also an opportunity for a new beginning and sometimes positive change. Be the best parent that you can be- the parent, (divorced or not), that your children need.
If you are experiencing divorce or separation and don’t know where to start, Clarissa’s book, ‘Splitsville- How to separate, stay out of Court and stay friends’ will keep you on the right path. Available in bookstores now or Order your copy here.
If you are looking to better understand the legal process during separation and divorce, come and join my next Family Law Information Session here in Brisbane. They are held monthly, but if you can’t attend in person, don’t worry you can listen to my online session. Learn more here.
As published in Families Magazine April/May 2015