By Associate Psychologist Olivia Smith
While it is far more common nowadays, parents still worry about the impact of their relationship breakdown on their children. As a result, some parents stay in relationships longer than they otherwise would. However, children are far more perceptive than we give them credit for. A separation which results in less conflict and a more harmonious home positively affects everyone.
That said, there are many steps parents can take to minimise the adverse effects of separation on their children. It is important to expect and normalise a range of emotional reactions, including; grief, anger, guilt, worry and feelings of rejection. Possibly, your children may even revert to an earlier developmental stage, with behaviours such as bedwetting, thumb sucking or emotional outbursts. This is completely normal and usually transitory in nature.
- Create a ‘business-like’ relationship with your ex-partner. Try to communicate and collaborate about parenting in a respectful and calm manner.
- Introduce change gradually. Initially, try to keep other parts of children’s lives the same, (e.g., contact with grandparents, school they attend and house they live in). This also includes introducing a new partner.
- Be open to answering your children’s questions, including being honest about what you do and do not know yet.
- Support your children’s ongoing relationship with their other parent.
- Make others in their life aware (e.g., teachers).
- Maintain consistency and stability across households.
- Reassure your children that the separation is not their fault and does not mean either parent loves them any less.
- Take steps to manage your own stress.
- Both be involved in caregiving (and live close to one another where possible).
- Arguing with your ex-partner in front of your children.
- Criticising your ex-partner in front of your children.
- Using your children as a ‘messenger’ to your ex-partner.
- Using your children as emotional support or a pseudo-partner. It is important your children are protected from adult worries and responsibilities. Seek support amongst friends, family members or a mental health professional.
Following these guidelines provides your children with the ability to process and accept your separation. It also allows for them to maintain a positive relationship with both parents. If you would like more information please see https://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/parenting.