Going through a separation or divorce can be an incredibly stressful and sad time. It is never an easy process and even though it doesn’t get the same recognition in society, neuroscience shows us that for those going through it, it feels like the trauma of losing a loved one to death. Indeed, it is the end (or death) of a partnership and it changes the family dynamic forever.
So, one can only imagine how lost, confused and vulnerable children can feel when their known family unit falls apart and how the grief and hardship can be exacerbated by parents behaving negatively during the separation period.
The good news is there are ways to help your kids cope during this challenging time so that they can move through the breakup feeling supported and loved.
Remember, your children’s entire world has been turned upside down, their very foundation uprooted. They must therefore become your top priority in order to reduce their pain and prevent unnecessary suffering.
As the adults in the family, it is up to you and your ex to maintain a decent and functional relationship throughout the breakup. Admittedly this is often easier said than done, but it is an absolute non-negotiable if you want to lovingly help your kids avoid the worst of the stress and minimise the trauma that comes from observing parents in conflict.
Even though it always takes two to tango, here are some practical suggestions that you can work with to help resolve any tension or conflict and avoid traumatising your children during the breakup:
Step back – If you find yourself in constant battle with your ex, take a big step back, breathe and remember the end goal; to exit the partnership with dignity while keeping the family intact. Get the help you need from a third party, a mediator, relationship coach or therapist who will help you work towards the shared intention for a peaceful separation going forward.
Think ahead – Keeping the bigger picture in mind of happy, healthy kids and your own independence, will help you to remain calm and avoid getting into petty disagreements. Make sure you surround yourself with people who can listen empathically, provide you with healthy perspectives and allow you to consider the best for all sides. Keep away from divisive voices that stir up blame, criticism, guilt, anger and fear.
Be mindful – Both you and your ex must unite through the breakup if only to say the same things to your children. By saying conflicting things to them can be extremely harmful. It can leave them feeling confused, distraught and insecure. If you cannot speak kindly with each other, then at the very least be mindful of the words you use when you are speaking about each other. This also means that you must avoid blaming your ex no matter how much you would like to.
Stick together – Never, ever argue in earshot of your children. A young child’s brain struggles to hold on to both parents as a unit when there is conflict and will often start rejecting one of them. This makes it even more vital for both you and your ex to keep presenting yourselves as a united front despite all the challenges you are facing during the painful breakup. This doesn’t mean you fake harmony. What it does mean is you continue to speak well of your partner to your children no matter what.
Be the grownup – So what if your child decides to take your ex’s side anyway? Don’t take it personally. Remember they love you both equally, but their brain won’t allow them to choose both of you when you are no longer one unit. Therefore, stay present and understanding, knowing they are dealing with their own inner conflict and turmoil. Keep reiterating that you will forever be their parents and you both still love them very much.
Keep them in the loop – When big decisions get made, like changes in the living arrangements, make sure that you let your children know. Plan when you want to talk to them and make sure your spouse is present and on the same page.
Just be nice – For the sake of your children, be polite in your interactions with your ex. Work on developing an amicable relationship. Remember you once liked each other. Try and work your way back to that. Most importantly, be nice to yourself. If you cannot take care of yourself, your children will suffer for it.
When you have those days where you want to hurl insults at your ex, go back to the reliable old adage: “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” But, in this case, you need to treat your ex the way you would like him to treat you.
Would you like to talk to me about your children and how to get them through your divorce with grace and dignity? Find out all about my RISE AGAIN course here.