As a separated parent, you are not alone; four out of ten UK marriages end in divorce and more than one in four children will experience their parents’ divorce by the age of 16. Separating from your partner can be a long and difficult process for everybody but it does not need to be the end of the world for you or your child.
Children can cope well with separation itself it is the conflict that can accompany separation that causes difficulties for children. Research has shown that the level of conflict experienced by children has a direct influence on the number of negative outcomes they experience including behavioural and emotional ones.
How well your child does depends a lot on you – you can decide to put your children first and protect them from hurt. Give them time, patience, understanding and hard work – that way, your children will be fine and so will you. Consider what you need to do for yourself to help you move on with your life, if you move on so can your children. Consider what you need to stop doing and what you need to start doing to help your child. What does your child need? Think of ways you can address this alongside what you need.
It is important to remember that although following separation you may no longer be partners you will continue to be parents. You will both always be parents to your children and maybe even grandparents to the same children one day so it is a good idea to address any issues as swiftly as possible.
THE IMPACT ON CHILDREN
What Children Need
Parents have the ability to be their children’s most valuable resources. A child depends on their parents to resolve any difficult situations for them, so they do not have to worry. Information and support is best when it can be provided by both parents. However, children still benefit considerably even if one parent focuses on minimising the conflict and making child-focussed decisions.
Things that help children adjust include:
Having supportive relationships with both parents and their wider family
Keeping the speed and number of changes they experience to a minimum
Not being exposed to parental conflict
Having access to other forms of support should they need it – therapy and professional support can help with providing information, sharing feelings and developing coping skills
Seeing their parents adjusting well and moving forward
Having access to accurate but child friendly information
More of what children need:
To be told what’s happening and how their lives will change
To know that it is not their fault
To know that it’s OK to feel angry and sad
To know that it’s fine to talk and ask questions
To be listened to
To know that their parents understand how they feel and still love them
To feel OK about loving both parents
To know that it’s all right to have different family rules in different houses
To be allowed to distance themselves from their parents’ conflict
To have a predictable routine with consistent boundaries
To know that they have two homes where they belong
To be able to stay in contact with extended family like grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins
To have access to other types of support if they want it
Have hope for the future
What Children Don’t Need
No matter how much you love your children or how good a parent you are, there is no way to take away all the upsetting feelings as your children go through this process. However, if you try to keep conflict with your ex-partner to an absolute minimum you will make the best of a difficult situation.
Children don’t need:
- To witness their parents arguing with one another
- To hear or see their parents complaining about or blaming each other
- To hear criticisms or negative comments about either parent
- To feel that they may be asked to choose one parent over the other
- To pass messages from one parent to the other
- To feel like an outsider in one parent’s home
- Adult information about the reasons for the divorce or details about child support
Remember, you cannot control how your ex-partner behaves, but your child will still benefit substantially if one parent is a stable nurturing influence in their lives.
The Negative Effects of Separation on Children
The Negative Effects of Separation on Children
Most children from separated families are resilient enough to cope, but it is still difficullt for them. Even after separation, how parents behave is the most important factor in whether or not children are at risk. Children of separated parents are in danger of losing a sense of themselves and their family, feeling angry and sad about the changes to their world, feeling guilty or responsible for what has happened, or worrying about being able to maintain good relationships with both mum and dad. Children can lose their normal routine and feel insecure. They can lose their hope for the future and feel like they have to become a part of the parental conflict.
‘Typical’ reactions of children include:
Clinging to one or both parents
Rejecting one or both parents
Being upset and crying
Being ‘withdrawn’ or withdrawing from parent or family life
Being aggressive and blaming
Behaving differently or having problems at school
Becoming more adult and “looking after” one or both parents
Either being very good or misbehaving in the hope that this will bring parents back together
The way they respond can depend on how old they are
However, remember that you as parents can make a difference and help your children to avoid having these negative experiences..