Joanna Coker: How to reduce impact of divorce on children
In this article Joanna Coker, Director of Local Counselling Centre and Accredited Sex and Relationship Psychotherapist suggests ways to reduce the impact of divorce and separation on children.
Divorce is a very difficult and painful experience for the couple involved, but for the children of the couple the experience can be overwhelming and hard to understand.
Children need the support and love of both parents to give them the best chance of a secure and stable upbringing; so as the adults involved in this situation, you need to be strong and put your hurt feelings with each other to one side to enable you to be supportive of your children and re-configure your family life. Your children need both of you and regular contact.
The following tips may help those of you who are struggling with how to handle these issues.
- Keep the conflict between you as a couple. Try not to bring the children or indeed any other family members into your quarrel. Even if you are very hurt and angry, try not to be openly negative or blame your partner when talking to others. This will give the best possible hope of you being able to maintain a relationship with all the family. If this is hard, then do get professional help to create a space to deal with your emotions.
- Try to be honest with your children. Talk to them as a couple and answer any questions as openly and honestly as possible in a respectful manner. Do not get into ‘who did what to who’, and ‘who thinks who’ was at fault. Explain the relationship has changed and how these changes will affect day-to-day life. Do reassure your child or children that this is not their fault and express your love for them. Suggest you make a plan together as to how you will move forward as a family including any suggestions that your child/children may have that will help them.
Place your child at the centre and put your pain to one side to help build a strong environment for the child.
- Allow your child to be upset and grieve. Children need time to adjust and the opportunity to express how they feel about the situation. Do not dismiss this, listen to it, and allow the child to say what would help them going forward.
- Probably the most important action that parents can take is to co-operate with each other. Place your child at the centre and put your pain to one side to help build a strong environment for the child. Discuss how you will work together at parents’ evenings, school matches and extended family events. Divorce affects the whole family so think about grandparents and relations and their involvement with children also. How can you both negotiate these difficult events and make them positive for your children? This will often involve you attending family events and putting your feelings on the ‘back burner’, holding on to the pain and conflict you may feel. While this is not easy, it does get easier with time and practice and will mean so much to children and extended family. It might be helpful to try a Parenting Plan, like Splitting Up? Put Kids First, particularly if you are struggling to keep emotions out of decision-making.
- Make sure you are on the same page and consistent regarding discipline and keep the rules you have always had. There is often a temptation to ‘make up’ for the heartache – you cannot, and you need not to add the problem of manipulation of the parents by the child to this already complex situation.
Even though your marriage has broken down, you will always have a relationship with one another as parents of the same children. Attempting to cut one another out of their lives will certainly create resentment in your children at some point in their lives. Following these guidelines will not only help you negotiate the difficult process of separation, but will set up a new configuration for your family that will allow for a positive outcome and enable your children to grow up secure in your love and care of them.
Local Counselling Centre has a team of specialised sex and relationship therapists working in Letchworth, Bedford, Chesham and Barnet. Call 01462 674671 or email hello@localcounsellingcentre for more information. www.localcounsellingcentre.co.uk