The insecurities on children from separated parents

In my work the effect that separating parents have on children causes many problems for both the children and the parents, and coming to terms with all the emotional turmoil can be so frustrating and depressing at the same time. I have to say that there is no right way to do this as each family unit is different and unique in how it interacts and reacts. If the nucleus family has never had to come to terms with loss that will be a very different experience to the family which has separated previously and had new parents who have separated again.

Each experience that we have shapes our views of the world and as such we draw on those previous experiences to inform us of our current situation, we will then react based on those experiences initially before we see if that new experience is different from the last one, hence no matter whether that new experience is more positive we will react as though it is going to be the same as the last one.

The issue for parents is being able to keep their own feelings at bay for the benefit of their children, not blaming or being angry in front of them, or even in the house when they are upstairs, not listening to what is going on, or so we think. Children pick up all the atmosphere and silent verbal communication to understand the world not just the verbal ones we give, thus if there is an atmosphere in the house because you are not talking to each other then they will know and act on that, whatever verbal communication that you give them.

In order for there to be a secure safe splitting up of the relationship both parents must endeavour not to make the children the go between or make them feel responsible in any way. This is hard given that relationships normally end because one of the parties has had enough or no longer wants to be attached to the other. This means there will usually be one injured party and one controlling party the injured party naturally would like the relationship to carry on the controlling party wants it to end, result anger and frustration.

You need to be able to put these feelings aside for your children’s benefit as this will automatically mean that if there is one child that they would want to gravitate towards the one they think is the injured one who needs most support, this inevitably results in the young person having to choose who to support. If you have two children then they would normally pick one each and so on as to who they believe needs them. If this is their second family they might well reconnect with their original parental figure in order to get away from the resulting negative emotions, if they have had more than two family break-ups then they may in fact look to an older figure who might look like a parental figure but because they have chosen them then they might put themselves in danger or become controlled by that parental figure in looking for love and a secure attachment.

The young person may well start to have anger issues themselves and verbally or physically attack the parent who they are living with as they will need to challenge the parent staying with them to see if they will still accept them and be a secure parent and not leave them. All these various feelings and emotions around the separation cannot be stopped but has to be managed in an appropriate way by all parties so that the adults can look after the children and the children don’t have to look after the adults. It’s generally accepted that the four things that the young people need are;

  • To be loved by both parents not just in words but also in actions.
  • To be secure and know when they are where they are possibly on a shared calendar.
  • For both parents to be able to communicate respectfully, for the benefit of the children, in talking about their world and how that separation affects them.
  • Never promise them anything which cannot happen or is untrue.

If you can do all these things at all times then you can make the separation a positive experience for them even if not for you. It’s not their fault that the relationship had to end it's both of yours.

Each change in yours and their lives will be reacted to, initially in a negative way, but not at the time but possibly three to five days after they have learnt about it, any change in their behaviour should be recognised as a reaction to the change in their world and not as just being naughty, which by the very nature of blame, in some sense removes the responsibility that you feel. They need hugs, one-to-one time and to know that they are not the problem.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF4 5RA
Written by Ian Wallace, NCPS Reg
Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF4 5RA

Ian is a specialist on human relationships, having over 8000 hours of face to face work over the last 15 years. He gets to the heart of the problem quickly and helps people to understand "why they do what they do". He also Teaches on this subject.

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