It always saddens me when youngsters are involved in adult disputes. Details of separation and divorce is not their business and they should ideally be left to enjoy a good relationship with both their parents; whether they all live under one roof or two separate ones. How and what we tell our children at these nightmare times will largely depend on their age but never discuss personal reasons with them, all they need to know is that you have agreed to split up.
Young people must be re-assured that both parents love them and that none of this is their fault. They require the comfort of knowing as much detail as possible as to what is going to happen to them, i.e., where they will call home, if they’ll continue to see both parents, will they remain at their playschool / school, where will they keep their toys / possessions and will they be able to continue to see their relations plus friends etc. Ideally, if it is at all possible, both parents sit with their children together and talk it all through with them, answering any questions they may have as clearly and simply as possible. If the children ask for more adult detail, gently tell them that this is between Mum and Dad and nothing for them to worry about. Do your best to keep their days structured and stable, ensuring they feel safe. Show your children affection, according to their preference; a pat on the back, re-assuring smile, thumbs up, hug or snuggle on the settee.
Regrettably sometimes one parent, in their own self-interest, uses the children as their confidante or as pawns; neither is acceptable. This places the child in a VERY difficult position of loyalty, can poison their minds and cause a great deal of distress. There is never any excuse for putting this kind of burden on young people. If you need to talk about the other parent in front of the children, talk positively about them. The key is for the accused parent to stay calm, cool plus controlled and not rise to the bait. Don’t get into a battle or a frustrating plea of reasoning in front of the children. Suggest a conversation with the prickly other half without the children. Otherwise grit your teeth and politely agree to disagree, walking away. This also teaches the youngster how to conduct themselves in a bristly situation. As difficult as it is, at such agonizing times, we have to play the waiting game and trust that one day the children will work out what’s what for themselves.
Youngsters generally want both parents to remain an important part of their lives, so make sure that you continue to raise them together as best you can, enjoy their activities with them and be there for them when they need someone to turn to. Also, as parents, it’s important you communicate with each other and not through the children as this adds extra strain on them.
Your children may go through a period of grief, anger and / or anxiety about the changes. It is important that you put your own issues to one side and show your child some empathy for how they feel about their new situation, in order to prevent any long term distress. Listen to them and help them find the words to fit their feelings, notice their moods, it may be that they try to protect you for fear of hurting you; let them know that whatever they say is OK. If they are not able to share what they are feeling it could take them longer to adjust to their new life. You cannot fix how they feel but you can inspire trust by showing that you understand. Alarm bells maybe ringing if your youngster develops sleep problems, poor concentration, becomes troublesome at school, has uncharacteristic angry or violent outbursts, withdraws from loved ones or favoured activities, starts self-harming or gets into drug or alcohol abuse.
You may find it useful to see a counsellor yourself so that you can work through any intense feelings of anger, fear, grief, shame or guilt you may have linked to your break-up; thereby having someone to let off steam with, leaving you freer to be there for your offspring. Make sure you plan special ‘me’ time, go for a walk in the country, exercise or play a sport, eat healthily, read, have a long indulgent bubbly bath or meet up with friends and laugh, laugh, laugh. Laughter, along with tears are natures own medicine. Write down your feelings, thoughts and moods in a journal to help you release tension, sadness and anger. As time passes, you can look back to see how far you’ve come.
Joy Hazlehurst is a Counsellor at The Hope Street Centre.
If you would like to book an appointment with her please call: 0788-196-6122.