Divorce and Separation - Putting Children's Needs First
January is the busiest month of the year for divorce and separation, often with couples having stayed together so that they don’t ruin the children’s Christmas. New Year brings the chance to start afresh and stop ignoring the problems in the relationship. Sometimes this involves seeing a counsellor perhaps to see if it can be fixed, and with a bit of help it often can be. But if not? The decision to separate is taken, and then one of the toughest parts for parents is telling the children and working out the best way to minimise the upset for them.
The truth is that there is no good time for telling bad news. According to the age of the child it will be taken in different ways, and it is helpful if you have worked out beforehand how you can set yourselves up, post-separation, so that you can provide the mutual care for your children between you. The question of whether it is better to stay together ‘for the sake of the children’ can perhaps be answered by the level of conflict between the parents. Many children say that the worst thing about their mum and dad separating is the arguing, and how they are drawn into taking sides. They want to be able to love both parents, but often end up walking on egg shells, quickly learning to avoid saying anything about Mum when with Dad, and Dad when with Mum. If they see one parent upset they may feel obliged to join in seeing the other parent as the ‘bad’ one. They may feel guilty about spending time with one or other parent if they think that the other is left at home, alone and sad. Finding someone for them to talk to that isn’t judgmental can be key to helping them through a difficult time, whether it is a family member, friend or therapist.
It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom though. The least damage is done when parents can continue to work together for their children, even if they are in conflict about other things. Those that make arrangements for when/where/how they see the children based on the child’s needs have the best long term outcomes. The children won’t understand that how often they visit a parent is dependent on a financial agreement or one parent trying to score points against the other. They simply need to know that they are loved by both and that they don’t have to choose between them.