When I talk about keeping children out of conflict I mean managing to do this most of the time; because no one gets things right all the time and to make mistakes is to be human. When you’re emotional and scared and angry it can be even harder to always try to react from a higher place rather than a base instinct to protect yourself. Part of making your separation as good as it can be is focusing on how you would like things to be even if you don’t always make it to the place you want to be at. But drawing a line under anything that didn’t go as well as it could, and refocusing on what you want things to be like, can make the separation as constructive as it can be for your children.
Any parent going through a separation will likely say that their priority is to have happy children. Children are likely to be happiest when the following things are true:
1. They understand what is happening and if things aren’t yet clear they know they will be told when they are. Explanations can be given in an age appropriate way but it is unsettling for children to know things are changing but not to know what those changes will be. They know they will be affected by them because they already know they’re being affected on some level.
2. They know both of their parents love them unconditionally.
3. They know that each parent is happy for them to have a relationship with the other parent and they feel a respectful relationship is in place between their parents even though they aren’t going to be living together any more.
4. They know absolutely that the separation is not their fault, and is not a result of them not being kinder to their siblings, having tided their bedroom more or generally made better choices.
If your children know all that, with every fibre of their being, then they are far more likely to be able to adjust to the change in their family life and to not be affected by things on a long term basis. It is being exposed to conflict and feeling that they are caught between their parents that is usually the cause of behavioural, emotional or even physical health problems for children following a separation.
It is also important that if things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped that you get the right support. Managing all of this on your own is hard and you are not an expert. Getting the right help from a professional – such as a family mediator, your child’s school or your GP can be a really huge step in turning things around when they’re not going as well as you’d hoped. Remember the objective is to get things mostly right overall not to have things right all the time.
A family mediator can talk you through the arrangements you want to make, step by step. They create a safe and constructive space where you can talk to each other and share your objectives, worries and ideas on what happens next. They help keep your discussions on track and can write down what you want to put in place going forward for your children.