Research shows that while children can adapt well to their parents’ separation, what they cannot cope with is prolonged exposure to conflict between their parents. Conflict between separated parents is shown to impact negatively on children’s long-term outcomes in relationships, career progression and emotional well-being.
This means that working on improving communication between separated parents is crucial for the well-being of children, both for their present and their future.
Here is a quote from Ellie aged 10 talking about how she feels when her parents argue when they meet.
“I feel horrible actually. It’s just I can’t stop them cos one’s my Dad and one’s my Mum. It seems like it’s all my fault when they are arguing. It just makes me feel horrible. I just feel that they’re arguing cos of me, cos I was born and cos I have to be picked up at a certain time, and it’s just horrible.”
No one would want their child to feel this way, but in Mediation we see plenty of couples who love their children desperately, but are so angry with their ex-partners that they are unable to control the way they communicate with each other.
Here are five tips to help with communication:
- The first idea is the most simple. If communication is very bad between the two of you reduce the amount of communication you need to have. Make sure you have a clear and consistent schedule for when each of you sees the children, and stick to it. This avoids the need for endless negotiations and discussions about timings and arrangements.
- If talking is tricky but there is important information you need to communicate about your children, some parents find in helpful to write this in a book. When one parent picks the children up they can look in the book to read about what the child has eaten, how they have slept, if they have had any medicine, and other useful practical information.
- Parents should try to use only positive or at least neutral language when talking about their ex-partner in front of their children. They should also encourage their family members and friends to do the same.
- It is best to communicate directly with the other parent rather than through intermediaries. Children should not be used to pass messages between parents, even when they are older.
- Texting and emailing can be useful, but remember that both can be misinterpreted. Face to face contact or telephone calls may be more difficult but tend not to carry this risk. If you need to discuss big life decisions for your children it may be helpful to set up a formal meeting to do this, for example in a neutral outside space like a cafe. Have a look at our fact sheet on managing a regular phone call between you
In Mediation we often work with parents on how to improve communication. And often once the dust settles from the divorce and separation process if mutual agreement has been reached regarding children’s arrangements many couples find that communication will gradually improve. It is very important to remember that children can adapt well to family break up, especially if they see amicable ongoing relationships between their parents. This is a quote from Sioned aged 12 talking about how her parents have managed their communication after separation.
“I’m happy that they got divorced cos if they hadn’t then they’d be arguing all my life and then I’d be all upset. And it’s more happier without shouting all the time. cos if they haven’t got divorced and I’m sure that they’d still be shouting now. My Dad’s happy and on the phone now, my Mum and Dad get on. They’re friends now. It’s more fun and everything’s happy – everywhere.”
For more information on how to communicate after separation or divorce go to https://theparentconnection.org.uk.
If you would like to speak to us about mediation then please call us on 0117 924 3880.