Helping Children through marital breakdown

IMG_0626The Late Late show featured the difficulties separated couples face when all they have in common are their children. There is a startling rise in
couples separating and issues around lone parenting. However, evidence shows that children fare better in a happy one parent family than a two parent family where there is conflict. Therefore, how do we negotiate the minefield of post separation contact to ensure our children are not adversely affected? Couple conflict blocks a child’s self worth and their feelings of security are eroded over time. Problems in children are most likely to arise in broken relationships where conflict continues.

Teen Between (counselling service for teens of separated parents) tell Luke’s story who lives with his mum and stays also at his dad’s house.  “It’s a nightmare having to keep track of all my stuff. I forget things and get into trouble in school, with football kit or homework in the wrong house. To add to this, mum and dad don’t talk so I have to pass messages between the two. It was doing my head in.” Teen Between helped him manage the situation and not get caught up in between the two parents.  Personally I find it difficult to keep track of uniforms, PE, ties, shoes and runners in one home never mind two!

The speed at which the separated partners move on into new relationships can be difficult for a child to manage. While they are struggling with a new separation, they often are thrown into sharing dad with a new girlfriend; leaving them angry and upset. For the child, everything may have changed suddenly and they may find they have no one to turn to. Feelings can be bottled up rather than being dealt with at the time. A parent may lean on their child emotionally or be emotionally unavailable at a time when their child needs their parent the most.

Separated parents need deal with the parenting issues respectfully, and leave the other issues aside. Easier said than done of course but do it for the child’s wellbeing. I have spent most of my life trying to change other people, it does not work. However, when I change, everything changes. Accept difference between you and your ex partner and try engaging respectfully with each other. Many children are used as pawns in the conflict and turned against a parent. When someone has strong feelings they need to be heard without interruption. Following that; a response from you of ‘I hear what you are saying’ makes them feel validated. In addition, they will be more open to listening to you afterwards. Acknowledging their feelings is crucial to conflict resolution. This is not the time to bring up old grievances, and deal with the immediate issue only.  When I speak in an ‘I’ message I find the other person does not feel under attack and will respond more positively. Therefore, a harsh comment of ‘You are always late’ can be communicated gently ‘I need to know if you will be late and I’d appreciate a text’.

Useful websites:

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy”- Henry Ford

Tips for Helping Your Child Through Marraige Breakup:

  • Select an appropriate time (not with children present)
  • Seek first to understand, only then to be understood
  • Listen without interruption
  • Acknowledge their feeling ‘sounds as if you feel’..’
  • A person who feels heard & understood will be open to listen to you
  • Communicate respectfully using an ‘I’ message (‘I need)
  • Request they listen to you without interruption
  • Do not bring up old grievances
  • Deal with the immediate conflict issues
  • Do not get into conflict
  • If the parents are angry with each other, do not let the child suffer

Helping your child through marital breakdown

This article was written by Sheila O’Malley, Practical Parenting, web: