Here we are again in January, the start of the new year and a new decade. January is a time for resolutions, bettering oneself and kicking bad habits. It is not surprising therefore that January is also a time when couples and parents decide to separate or divorce as part of making hopeful positive changes to their lives. Often for the sake of the children they will wait until Christmas is over and everyone is back to work and school, before they tackle this issue.
So, if you are a newly separating couple this January or perhaps you have been separated for a while, it is a good time to think about how you want to successfully parent your children even though you are no longer with each other. Putting the children first and making sure you don’t drag them into your adult conflicts is just one aspect of the positive changes you could consider for the new year.
Making positive changes to resolve conflict with your ex-spouse or partner is not only beneficial to you and your own healing process but also very important for your children.
We understand that many break ups are not simple and very often are fuelled by anger and hurt. Often each person feels the other doesn’t listen to them or respect them or their point of view. Children can often be drawn into these fights; used as weapons against the other parent, by withholding contact or forcing them to choose sides. Many studies show that it is not the divorce itself but how it is handled by parents that causes the most distress in their children.
Obviously, it takes two to make this work effectively, but a shift in the tone of your own communication could start to make the process better and healthier. When there are children involved in a separation it is so important for the communication to be regular and civil. There will be arrangements to make for contact, swapping over care, schools, holidays and a whole host of other things.
The stress that is caused to the children and yourself by constantly raging at each other is very damaging. Sometimes you will need to accept that your ex is not someone you like, but for the sake of a more peaceful path you can choose to not react angrily to situations that arise. As we often see through mediation sessions, when communication is re-established, there is a much better understanding of each parent’s point of view and the anger is reduced.
Making Arrangements and Sticking to Them
Contact arrangements can become complex in today’s busy world. School holidays, work commitments, new partners and many other factors mean that planning arrangements in advance where possible makes absolute sense. It will also benefit the children if they know in advance what will be happening and which parent they will be with during holidays.
Of course, sometimes unforeseen events mean that plans must change, but it is how both parents deal with this that will make the difference to the children. There must be a certain amount of flexibility and compromise on the both sides with empathy when plans have to change. You may find it helpful to read: Arrangements for children after separation – the importance of compromise.
There are always times when parents find it impossible to reach agreement between themselves, in these cases our parenting coordination services will alleviate these difficulties. In some cases parents are so angry with each other they don’t speak at all and would rather communicate through a parent coordinator so they don’t have to see each other.
Having a Regular Pattern of Contact for the Children
Having a regular (or as regular as you can manage) pattern of care for the children will work best for everyone. There needs to be a clearly defined time when they will be with each parent. If you are still very newly separated it can be difficult to set these boundaries, we have heard of couples spending weekends together with the kids, or one parent coming over to the others house to spend time. This can work but is not sustainable and will cause confusion in the children. They will find it hard to understand why their parents have separated if they spend all their weekends together. So, if this is the case for you, make your new year resolution to set clearer boundaries.
Some parents decide to share care of the children on a 50/50 basis, which can work very well for everyone. We have some shared parenting schedules and ideas which may help if you are looking for this kind of arrangement. We have also written a some tips for parenting children who have two homes.
Put your Children First
This may sound obvious, but it is so often the case that in the midst of a painful separation, parents can lose sight of this and forget the needs and feelings of their children. Putting the Children First after Separation doesn’t mean allowing your children to become spoiled or dictate to you as parents what they want. It is more about considering their feelings before you do something and realising the damage that can be caused by not understanding the emotional roller coaster they go through when their parents split up.
For example, imagine your temptation to bad mouth your ex when he is late again to pick the kids up. Your own anger at his/her incompetence and lack of care could easily come out when the children ask where he/she is. But just pause a moment and understand the child’s perspective – they love both parents, they want to see both parents, they will become very confused and stressed if the two people they love the most on the world are criticising each other. Emotional issues and loyalty conflict in children can damage them deeply – Read our blog here: Loyalty Issues and Conflict in Children after Separation and here: Insecurities in Children with Separated Parents.
Introducing New Partners
Has your ex recently met someone new? Perhaps you have? Or maybe part of the breakdown in your relationship was because there were other people involved. Whatever the circumstances, the way you break the news and introduce new ‘friends’ to your children is very important. There may be issues or factors that you have not considered in this situation. Have a read of our blog which looks at how and when to introduce new partners to your children.
Forgive Your Ex…and Yourself
However painful your separation is and regardless of placing blame at the door of the other, no amount of continued blame or anger will help you going forward. Forgiveness will set you free and enable you to move on with your life. You can only be responsible for your own actions, you cannot control what others do, so with this in mind you will find all of the resolutions above much easier to achieve.
It may be hard to think about doing this and something that will help you is to try to just focus on any positives about your ex. Even just small things like; ‘he always picks up the kids on time’ or ‘she allowed the children to stay with me an extra day as it was my birthday’.
Forgiving yourself can be a tough one, any break up will bring guilt, whether you consider the blame to be with yourself or your ex. Give yourself a break and move on with a positive attitude, your children will fare much better emotionally with a parent who is kind to themselves.
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, we have years of experience with family mediation cases ranging a wide spectrum of circumstances. Please call us on 0788 903 9393 for an informal chat and some advice on your own situation.