Whatever the circumstances, parental separation is hard on families and big changes must be made. Keeping children at the centre of parenting and responding to their thoughts, feelings and questions, will help you to help them during this difficult time.
Research shows that children normally experience one or more of the following reactions to the separation of their parents:
- Children often get caught in the middle; loyalty to one parent can cause conflict.
- “Does mum or dad love someone else?”. Although mum or dad might not love each other anymore, it is important to reassure your child that you both continue to love him/her.
- “I don’t want to come over today”. As children get older their interests change. They may not want to visit a parent and may just want to spend more time with their friends.
- “Is it my fault?”. Children may feel they are responsible for the separation. They may dream up plans to get you and your ex-partner to reconcile.
- “Why don’t you love each other anymore?”. It is not uncommon for children to ponder this question. Often children will blame the parent who they believe initiated the separation and view the other parent as a victim.
- When a child makes threats such as “If you do not come home, I will never speak to you again”, the purpose of this is to make the parent feel guilty so that they will return home.
- Children between the ages of 8-16 years can experience intense anger. They can often be most angry with the parent they blame for separation, but they may express anger only towards the parent they view as the ‘safest’, usually the resident parent.
- “What should I tell my friends?”. If you want your child to share the situation with others, you must be able to do the same. Encourage your child to be honest about the situation.
- “Why are you separating?”. Children are more likely to ask this if they have not been given a clear explanation for the separation.
- The child may worry about the future. This is more likely to occur where there is parental conflict around contact and maintenance. As parents, you need to listen to your child’s worries and talk honestly and openly with them about their concerns.
One Family are looking for responses to the first ever National Shared Parenting Survey from parents who have separated and are sharing parenting. The data gathered will finally give a voice to parents and their children who are sharing parenting, which can inform appropriate policies and services in the future. Please take ten minutes to complete this anonymous survey. Take the survey here.
If you need support, information or advice, contact our lo-call askonefamily helpline on 1890 66 22 12.
This week’s Parenting Tips is adapted by One Family’s Director of Children and Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly, from our Family Communications training programme.