The decision to separate or divorce a partner is often times a laborious and heart-wrenching process. If the partnership includes children, the decision causes ripples of reactions which impact all family members. Depending on the age of the children in your family, there may be differing needs which should be considered on an individual basis. However, there are some things you can do as a parent moving through separation or divorce which will help your children, no matter their age.
1. Find support for yourself. Whether you are initiating the separation or divorce or your partner is, there will be a significant amount of feelings, concerns, and decisions you will need to sort through. Having support for yourself is important for your own recovery from such a stressor, but also benefits your children. When parents are supported during challenging times, there is less of a chance that the parent’s pain and chaos will trickle down and impact their child. Areas of support include having a friend/family group and other support systems in place to help you when you need it. These people may include your close friends, family, or even your children’s friend’s parents, who could help out with transportation when needed.
While having friends is important, remember that they aren’t necessarily prepared (or trained) to help people in crisis. Additionally, while caring and loving friends may desire to be emotionally supportive of you, allowing them to slip into a counselor’s role with you can tax the friendship. Finding a Therapist with whom you build a trusting rapport is important during such a life change. Therapy can be focused on processing emotions and pain or on strategizing on how to adjust your life from such a big change, or both! Finding therapeutic support will be a valuable resource for you and your children during this time.
2. Start practicing being “Parental” instead of “Personal.” You and your partner have a very personal history with one another, and if you have children, your relationship after divorce will continue on behalf of your children. When you or your partner decide to pursue separation/divorce, there are of course a lot of personal feelings, oftentimes targeted toward that ex-partner and their decisions (sometimes their past decisions and sometimes decisions being made in the present). When children experience angry and hurt parents being personally emotional, reactive, or vindictive toward their other parent, it is harmful to the child. At times parents may be tempted to explain their perspective of what has happened or process angry and/or hurt feelings about their other parent in front of or even with their child. This hurts your child. Your child has a relationship with their other parent and must work out their own feelings, concerns, and decisions regarding the family changes. It is unfair to ask them to take on your feelings while they are already overwhelmed with their own.
Being “Parental” with your ex-partner instead of “Personal” means that when your child is present, all personal issues, pain, and concerns are put to the side and your only concern is the continued parental obligations you have with one another. You may need to set aside time to be personal with your ex-partner, but this should not be permitted in front of your child. Remaining “Parental” instead of “Personal” when your children are present is a healthy boundary which protects them from continued trauma of your separation. It will minimize chaos and drama and allow a more peaceful interaction. It can also help you to prepare for what to address at certain times. For example, when the child is present and you’re remaining “Parental” during a drop-off with the other parent, you share information such as physical, social, educational, or emotional needs of your child, plans for the next drop-off, or anything else pertinent to the exchange of your children. It would not include topics such as attorneys, meetings, finances, etc., which are of personal nature. Having the boundary of remaining Parental when children are present is a healthy boundary for your children, as well as for you and your ex-partner.
3. Schedule a Transition Prep Action Planning Meeting. At Creative Family Counseling, several team members have worked together to create a brief, solution-focused service which guides people through various life transitions, such as separation or divorce. These meetings can help caregivers and children work through these life changes in a proactive manner by identifying challenges and barriers, problem solving with one another, communicating needs, and working through big feelings in a supportive atmosphere. Parents moving through divorce have so much to think about and consider during this transitional time. Allow our team to support you by letting us take on considering what topics need to be addressed with your child. The Transition Prep Action Planning meetings include a general curriculum and plan which will be adapted to your particular family’s needs. We would love to support you during this time.