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Parental Separation

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We are all used to hearing that the two parent family unit is the best way to bring up children. But the reality is, parental separation occurs, relationships do end and it isn’t always possible for couples to stay together for the sake of the children. And it may not even be desirable – unhappy, warring parents, or even just a constant atmosphere of tension, is not a happy situation for any child. But parental separation involves a huge adjustment for children, nonetheless, so now its time to think about how you can help your children to make the transition to their new family arrangements.

Breaking the news

This is the bit that many people dread the most. Your children are likely to have a better idea of what has been going on than you give them credit for – kids are very good at picking up atmospheres and tensions. But of course, they are still going to be upset when it finally comes to it, and you need to brace yourself for their reaction. They may have questions – and your best strategy is to try and answer them, as honestly as they can. That’s not to say they need to know parental separationeverything – some details are strictly adults only. But they do need a general idea of what the problem is, otherwise they may worry that they are in some way to blame. Give simple clear explanations, such as ‘we aren’t getting on very well’ or ‘we disagree about some important things.’ Remember at this point, and through everything that follows, to keep telling your children that you and your partner love them and reassuring them that this is not going to change.

The practicalities

Children can be surprisingly resilient when it comes to bad news, and you once the news is out, you may find they move on pretty quickly and start wanting to know exactly how their lives are going to be affected. You need to be ready with as much detail as you can muster about where they are going to be living, whether there are going to be changes to schools or other activities and most importantly, what the contact arrangements are going to be between them and each of their parents. Older children really do need to have some say in this, so make it clear that the arrangements are not set in stone, and give them the chance to say how they would like it to work.

Staying united

This is the really tricky one, of course, but if you can achieve it, it will make a huge difference to your children’s ability to come through this experience with their emotional health intact. If it is at all possible, you should tell your children the news together, and discuss the practicalities with them together. And from this point on, you really have to try to keep blame and bitterness out of the picture.parental separation

Even if your split is acrimonious, even if you are the injured party, your children will not benefit from hearing you criticising your ex. It may be through gritted teeth, but you are going to have to talk about them with respect and support their role in your children’s lives.  It may be that your ex isn’t able to maintain the same attitude and that your children will hear unpleasant comments made about you, but don’t be tempted to reciprocate. They don’t need to be in the middle of your battles.

Keep talking

This is really the key. Try to remember that your child may be really frightened about what this will mean, and may be feeling the loss of the traditional family unit really badly. You need to spend time with them, encourage them to talk and acknowledge all their feelings. Don’t minimise their emotional reactions to the situation or try to suggest that they shouldn’t feel a particular way. It is natural for any parent to want to make things better for their child, but in actual fact, children need to feel and express their sadness before they can move on to a happier place. It’s a difficult time, but with patience and love, children can and do adjust, and find their security and stability within their new family arrangements.

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About Paula Hendry

About Paula Hendry

Paula Hendry is a freelance consultant in the field of social work. She has been a social worker for twenty five years, and specialises in mental health. Paula has two children and writes in her spare time (which is virtually non-existent.)

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