Deciding to divorce or separate when you have children can be a hard decision to make. Depending on your circumstances and the reasons for the break up can mean a very different experience for different separating couples. Some will dither over the decision for years, wracked with guilt about what impact the split may have on the children. Others may be in an impossible or dangerous situation where a quick clean break is the best option.
Whatever your circumstances, it is very important to try to put your children’s wellbeing first, by this I don’t just mean physically, I mean mentally. There are many ways to ensure that you are a ‘sensible’ parent after separation and I hope the following points are helpful but be aware that the best outcome will always occur when both parents are committed to the welfare of their children.
An amicable split is obviously the best type of separation whether you have children or not. It is more likely the couple will discuss arrangements for the children in a sensible way with the children’s best interests at heart. It is likely that the couple still have respect for each other and will listen to the other person’s perspective without raised voices or unnecessary arguments.
The ongoing relationship between separated couples like this will always be about the care of the children, discussing the inevitable finance issues that come up along the way and holiday child care coverage and how they can work together to look after the children.
Example of a couple who have put their children first after their divorce, would have the following behaviours:
- Regular and consistent timetable for each parent to be with the children. The children know the pattern, know which parent will be picking them up from school and which parent’s turn it is to have them for the weekend. This consistency gives children security, there are no nasty surprises at the school gate or any uncertainties about whether Dad or Mum will let them down or disappoint them.
- The parents would always actively encourage time and activities with the other parent. Then afterwards, listen to the children recount their activity with the other parent and be positive and happy that they all had a good time.
- The parents never bad mouth the other parent to the children or within earshot of the children. The negative effects of this on the children is very damaging. Read our blog about parent alienation which specifically talks about the effect this has on children and families.
- Special days like Christmas and birthdays are shared fairly between the parents so that the children get to enjoy these days with both parents without guilt or fighting. In some cases, separated parents will spend these days together so the children can enjoy both parents together.
- Managing the school holidays for working parents can be difficult even if you are not separated. Helping each other to manage the situation by being as flexible as possible with each other not only makes things easier but the children see and appreciate the collaboration.
- Change over days – parents chat and sometimes stop for a coffee with each other.
- Discipline – this can be a tricky one, particularly if one parent is more lenient than the other and the behaviour boundaries that are set in the different houses are inconsistent. Amicable parents will have a much easier time discussing this and making sure they are a unified front when it comes to managing children’s behaviour.
- Introducing new partners – this would be discussed between the parents first about the best mutual way this can be approached in the specific situation. Read our blog on introducing new partners where we look in depth at how this can be done with minimum anxiety and hurt for all involved.
Couples where one Parent is not Cooperative
Sadly, people often don’t fit into the scenario above where reasonable communication and compromise is found after separation. In some cases, there will be one parent who is trying to do the best by the children but the other parent is not cooperative and doesn’t want to be amicable for the sake of the children. This can be a very hard situation for the parent who wants to do things right. Here are some examples of the types of situation that they might face and how best to deal with it:
- The father of the children only comes to take the children out for a few hours on random Saturdays when it suits him. There are many instances of the children being let down when he doesn’t turn up. Despite this, the mother never talks down about the dad to the children and always tries to smooth things over even though she can see how sad they are and feels very angry herself.
- The father openly blames the mother for the split to the children causing them to feel confused and unhappy. The actual facts of the situation are that the mother found out he was having an affair and had had another child with this person whilst they were still together. The temptation here is for the mother is to tell the children the facts, but due to their age it is wiser not to involve them in the details of adult conflict as it only confuses them more.
- The mother will start to shout at the father in front of the children at pickups. This is very upsetting for everybody and is a very hard situation to deal with. Shouting and arguing in front of the kids is very damaging. The option here is to maybe get a friend to be there to answer the door to avoid the confrontation or if that isn’t possible, remain silent and don’t react to the shouting or it could be made worse.
Couples where both parents find cooperation difficult
This is one of the most difficult and dangerous situations for the children involved. The parents have completely lost sight of the importance of putting the children first. They will constantly argue and shout at each other, they will deliberately talk down to the children about each other. In severe cases where no compromise is reached and the anger goes on for years, the parents will use the children to hurt the ex-partner. The mother may refuse to let the father see the children at all, intercept any written communication to the children from the father.
Sadly in these cases, the mother may have talked so badly about the father that the children feel they must refuse to see their dad just to keep the mother happy. We have written a blog about these types of loyalty issues and conflict for children after separation.
Whatever the age of the children, these circumstances can cause long term damage as there is no ‘sensible’ role model for them to learn from. Not only will the children suffer emotional damage which will affect their friendships and relationships as they go through life, it is often a pattern that repeats down through generations.
Here are some articles that will give a better understanding of how to help children and teenagers through their parent’s separation:
Mediation Can Help
If you are experiencing conflict with an ex-partner and are having difficulty communicating or resolving issues, mediation can be very helpful. Here at Progressive Mediation in Bristol, we have years of experience with family mediation cases ranging a wide spectrum of circumstances. Please call us on 0117 924 3880 for an informal chat and some advice on your own situation.