Often, families can find themselves in the situation where the parents are no longer able to stay together, and children are then required to live across multiple houses. This is a difficult time for all involved.
When I see families in my practice it can be for a wide range of reasons. Often it is because the children are distressed, angry, sad, confused or even experiencing grief for how the family used to be.
Parents can also struggle with many of the same feelings. They may be hurt, sad, and often angry, particularly at each other. This can lead to a breakdown in communication between parents where the child can be used as the messenger who becomes caught between them.
I have seen some parents who are so angry or upset with each other that they find it extremely difficult to communicate openly and collaboratively.
Sometimes children are told they cannot take things from one house to another or there are strict rules at one house and very few rules at the other. Eventually the children may even need to face the situation that one or both parents have a new partner.
It is important to see these situations through the children’s eyes and to create a loving, open and supportive place wherever and with whomever they are living.
Relationships Australia has provided some useful tips for parents who are separating.
Assure children that both parents still love them, no matter what. You may have fallen out of love with their other parent, but the children still love that person and may not understand why you are separating.
Give the children a simple, honest account – but not one that blames or point scores against the other parent or gives unnecessary detail. Assure them they do not have to take sides. They love both of you, so attacking or criticising the other parent hurts the children.
Never use the children as go-betweens. Do not ask your children to deliver messages to the other parent or say negative things about the other parent. This is damaging
to the child and reflects badly on you. Children find it difficult to deliver messages and do not want to be drawn into fights.
Find a way to communicate politely and respectfully with your former partner and keep them informed about important matters regarding the children such as health, injuries in your care, and education.
Be understanding if children play up or are distressed. Children need time and understanding as they adjust. Many children are taken unawares when they hear their parents are separating and need a lot of assurance as they come to terms with the changes in their lives.
Some parents navigate this time in their lives well, continuing to function as a parenting team and working well together. For various reasons, some parents may find this much more difficult.
Ensuring the separation is as harmonious as possible may prevent undue stress and adjustment issues for the children.
The benefits for children whose parents get along well and still function as a parenting team are numerous. These children benefit from the consistency between the houses and are able to know what to expect and what is expected of them regarding rules, discipline and rewards. When the children are exposed to a predictable and consistent environment across the houses, they build a strong sense of security that can help them adjust more quickly and easily to the new situation.
Making this process as amicable as possible for the children can help prevent psychological difficulties from occurring such as anxiety, depression and even ADHD. Being a good example and role model for children to follow may help avoid an already difficult situation being even more so.
Many useful resources such as Relationships Australia are available to assist parents going through separation. Making an appointment with a psychologist can also be useful to provide a way to help children and families work through what can be a challenging time.