Supporting your Child & Yourself Through Separation & Divorce

Supporting your Child & Yourself Through Separation & Divorce

There is possibly no other situation quite as painful as separation from your child’s other parent. The intensity of feelings experienced by both parents about the situation and towards each other can become destructive and divisive.

In these extreme situations we can often lose sight of our children’s deepest needs and what is most supportive for everyone in the long term.

It is essential to remember that it is in the child’s best interests for both parents to maintain involved in the child’s life.

When we have made some commitment to attachment parenting any parental separation may feel damaging. In this situation your child’s emotional home base becomes really important as their need for stability and continuity remains high. Gift yourself the opportunity to move forward. Trust in your child’s healing ability to express themselves and respect that each parents ability to offer empathy during times of distress will fortify the relationship.

Resource yourself

  • It is essential to voice all your feelings; sadness, rage, frustration, fear, but within a safe and adult-held space
  • Only you can own your feelings – your child does not deserve to receive them
  • Create time & space for yourself by inviting other loving people to be with your child
  • Seek loving adult encouragement which doesn’t feed your victim-state or fuel your negativity
  • Seek professional support with a compassionate therapist, counsellor or coach
  • Try to maintain clear, loving, firm limits both for your child’s benefit and your own
  • Own the voice which seeks to punish an ex-partner – find responsible adult support with this

Being present for your child

  • Listen, validate, again and again…expect big and messy emotions
  • Allow them their own feelings remembering it’s not actually about you
  • Connect with cuddles and rough and tumble physical play
  • See each tantrum as a necessary expression of the healing process – they are grieving
  • Recognise that your child’s big emotions might be triggered by small events
  • Commit to some special time each day – even 15 minutes of dedicated time can meet a child’s need for attention when they may feel your attention being pulled elsewhere
  • An aggressive child is one who feels unsafe and helpless – give loving attention
  • Don’t emotionally reject your child for their positive feelings towards an ex-partner or new step-parent
  • Reassure your child that they are not responsible for family break-up and that they are loved
  • Use play therapy to allow your child to act out situations they are coming to terms with

Respecting each parent

  • Always speak respectfully of the other parent – criticising your ex-partner is like criticising your child
  • Reassure your child that they are loved by their other parent
  • Don’t make your child feel they have to choose between each parent – it will make them feel unsafe
  • Remember that support and affection with fathers is linked to a more positive relationship with the mother
  • Children adjust better when they have more regular and frequent contact with both parents
  • Try to find a way to involve each parent on special occasions
  • Communicate directly and privately with your ex-partner rather than via the child.

Supporting yourselves through transitions

  • Decide on contact arrangements with the child’s needs as the priority
  • Support your child in choosing what they want to take with them when staying away from their main home
  • Allow for items to move between homes (even if sometimes it feels painful to see them they will be giving your child a sense of continuity and safety)
  • On separation reassure your child that you will be reunited
  • Allow time for the transitions to settle into a rhythm, it is an ongoing process
  • Stay firm and loving in choosing to live your values and not those you may feel compelled to compete with
  • In upset stay connected and work things through with your child rather than allowing them to run to the other parent in their anger or distress
  • Validate your child’s feelings about impending separation and allow time and space for their feelings to quickly evolve
  • If possible make a commitment to stability and avoid major changes which your child may find disruptive such as a new school or moving house

Supporting the merging of families

  • Never be rude about a new step-parent, model respect
  • If your child complains about a step-parent validate and reflect back their feelings
  • Feel appreciation for a loving step-parent, they are a gift to your child even if they feel like a threat

When one parent leaves or needs to leave

  • A negative parent unable to emotionally support the child is worse than an absent one
  • If a parent drops contact reassure the child it is absolutely not about them and that they are utterly loveable
  • Explain that the parent’s absence is to do with them having a very difficult time and their love is covered up right now but their love for the child is always deep down in their heart.
  • Trust in your ability to love your child and listen and validate their grief

Links

Empathetic & insightful article from Hand in hand Parenting http://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/helping-children-with-divorce/
Comprehensive article with clear tools for supporting children through divorce http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/family-life/Divorce-protecting-kids

Books

Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families by Laurene Krasny Brown
Two Homes by Claire Masurel

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