When Parents Part – Helping Your Children Through Separation and Divorce – Part 1

Around a quarter of households with dependent children in the UK today are single parent households. An estimated 240,000 children in the UK experience the separation of their parents each year. More than one in three children will see their parents separate before they reach their 16th birthday.

Divorce and separation rank second only to bereavement regarding the level of stress they generate in a person’s life. It is difficult to deal with your own hurt and anxiety without the heartbreak of witnessing the distress of your children. There are things you can do to help your children through the process.

Talk to your children:
Once you have made a firm decision to separate (not before) set aside time to talk to your children. Ideally both parents should be present and speak to the children together. If the level of hostility between you means this is impossible, you should each speak to the children separately. Whether you speak to the children together or separately you should agree in advance what the children will be told. Children benefit from hearing the same message from both parents.

The television should be switched off and there should be no other distractions. Explain in simple terms which aspects of their life will change and which will remain the same (for example, home, school, and time with parents). You will need to adapt the amount and nature of the information you give to your children according to their age, understanding and personalities. Make sure that the children are aware that they can ask questions and talk about how they feel with either of you.

Make sure that your children are given opportunities to talk to you throughout the process, not just at the beginning. Acknowledge the significance of the change in your children’s lives and that it is natural to feel sad.

Make sure your children do not witness conflict between you and your ex-partner:
It is very damaging for children to witness conflict between their parents, whether this is physical aggression and intimidation or raised voices and verbal abuse. There are bound to be times when you feel angry and vulnerable. Try not to react immediately, especially in front of the children. Adopt the old adage of taking a deep breath and counting to ten.

Try to set aside time to discuss matters face to face or by telephone if possible, as there is less chance of a misunderstanding occurring. If you do receive an upsetting text or email from your ex-partner, sleep on it before responding. Try to understand that your ex-partner’s hurtful and seemingly unreasonable demands may just be an expression of their fear and anxiety about what the future holds, and respond accordingly. If you feel that you are at risk of physical violence seek professional help from the police or a solicitor immediately.

Make sure you get some important messages across to your children:
Children often mistakenly blame themselves for the breakdown of their parents’ relationship. This may be the case even though they do not express it verbally. They may think that, if they try hard enough, they can get their parents back together. It is important that children understand that it is not their fault; that separation and divorce are adult problems and that there is nothing that they can do to alter or fix the situation. Stress to them that both parents still love them.

For help on all family law matters, please contact Joanna at jtoloczko@meaby.co.uk or on 020 7703 5034.