As you may be aware, it is not so much parental separation that causes problems for children but conflict they may see or experience between parents. Conflict may not be obvious: silence can be a form of conflict which some children may be very sensitive to and affected by. However difficult it may be for parents going through their own issues, when separating somehow they need to try and remember that their children may well be just as – and probably more – confused and upset by the situation than they are.
It is perhaps important to remember that parents need support and encouragement to be able to help their children. The emotional health of parents is vital for their children. The Children Society produced some frightening statistics. There are some 100,000 runaway children every year, and according to them, 80% is as a result of family problems or break up – very often problems with step-parents. 25,000 of those runaways are under the age of 11 years. Whilst your children may not be running away, the numbers indicate how separation can affect children and that those not running away may in fact be much more affected than their parents might imagine.
It is not that parents going through a divorce or separation are in any way bad parents – simply parents in a bad place. Somehow, despite all that might be going on, it is important to try and encourage and support children seeing the other parent to give what Judith Walestine has described as loving permission for those children to spend time with the other parent. Really hard to do but necessary for the emotional wellbeing of your children.
Whatever may be going on between the parents, the children have and will always have two parents who in some way are going to have to co-parent the children for the rest of their lives, whether it be through school, university, graduation, marriage, grandchildren e.t.c. Parents will both remain involved to a greater or lesser degree. So it is worth putting in time, effort and thought when initially separating to ensure as far as possible that an on-going relationship can be maintained.
This is where mediation or the collaborative process can really help. Right from the outset everyone involved makes a commitment not to fight, not to argue unnecessarily and not to resort to any form of Court battle. Obviously it is going to be difficult – feelings run high, people are hurt, damaged, upset and angry. Both mediation and the collaborative process enable parents to express these feelings. It is no good sweeping anything under the carpet but if it is done in a constructive way to enable all parties to move forward, this is much better than engaging in mud-slinging or making accusations merely for the sake of them.
Mediation or collaboration may not be the easiest option but there are ways to ensure a more constructive separation which has long-term benefits for all the family members.