Just being a mother can be hard. There’s no training, no rulebook, no practice runs. But navigating the murky waters of divorce is another challenge altogether. And I’m not talking settlements and spouse support. I’m talking about the children involved. How do we ensure their little lives are relatively unaffected? There’s no doubt about it … parenting through separation can be an emotional and mental minefield.
Every situation is different. Each divorce has its own mixture of emotion and pain. Each child their own coping mechanisms. Each mother her own survival kit. And, as a mother, however hard you try, it’s natural to experience tidal waves of worry, guilt and doubt.
But, as with everything, there is a bright side. According to Kids Health:
‘Every divorce will affect the kids involved. And many times the initial reaction is one of shock, sadness, frustration, anger, or worry. But kids also can come out of it better able to cope with stress. And many become more flexible, tolerant young adults.’
So how can we help our children whilst parenting through separation … and keep our sanity intact at the same time.
PARENTING THROUGH SEPARATION
1. BEWARE OF INNOCENT EARS
It’s easy to become complacent about our children hearing the unpleasantries of divorce. Whether it’s arguments or a discussion over custody, they simply don’t need to hear it. Even if you’re having a good moan to a friend, make sure innocent ears aren’t in the vicinity. Hearing blame and negativity can cause anxiety for children. Witnessing discontent between the two people they love is very upsetting.
2. REMEMBER ROUTINES (AND CREATE NEW ONES)
The power of a good routine in a child’s life is huge, especially when parenting through separation. Yet, with divorce come changes that tilt their little words off axis. Living between two houses can be complex but try to continue with as many routines as possible. As well as that, create new routines to help them feel stable and secure. And remember, as per Help Guide:
‘Maintaining routine also means continuing to observe rules, rewards and discipline with your children. Resist the temptation to spoil kids during a divorce by not enforcing limits or allowing them to break rules.’
3. DON’T DISAPPROVE OF DAD
Whether intentional or not, if you diss Dad, you are not doing yourself any favours. Whatever the reason for the separation, he’s still their Dad, and for this reason, you must show respect towards him. It can be extremely hard at times but you must allow your children to form their own opinions. Even be careful discussing your ex with a friend. You might be tempted to off-load your issues, but if your children are listening, it is you they will view negatively. When helping your children cope with divorce this is one of the most positive things you can do.
4. PUT THEM IN THE PICTURE
While you must censor what your children hear, you must also talk to them. This is a top tip for parenting through separation. When you have decided to separate, tell your children about your separation. Plan how to do it sensitively and leave any bitterness and remorse at the door. Then keep them in the picture. Speak to them regularly and explain what’s happening. Give them a chance to talk and ask questions. They need as much preparation and guidance as you can give. Let them know, yes things are changing and will be different, but you have it under control. Most importantly, let them know it’s not their fault and that you love them.
5. ALLOW THEIR FEELINGS TO FLOW
When parenting through separation it’s important to encourage your children to address their emotions. They may try to hide them as they don’t want to make the situation worse. Whether it’s a heart-to-heart, a good rant or a shoulder to cry on, let them know their feelings are natural and it’s OK to express them. It’s all too easy for us to dismiss their feelings with phrases like ‘don’t be upset’ or there’s ‘no need to cry’. Allow them to display their feelings and be there for them.
6. LOOK AFTER NO. 1 (WHICH IS YOU BY THE WAY)
It is a mothers instinct to protect her children, and parenting through separation will heighten this instinct. Yet, in order to protect and nurture we must be in a good place too. How can we encourage optimism if we are pessimistic? How can we raise our children’s spirits if we are down? Children will feed on their parents emotions and moods. We are their instinctive role models. For this reason, make sure you concentrate on yourself so you are better prepared to care for your children.
Tips for parenting through separation (cont.)
7. REACH FOR RESOURCES
With one in three marriages in Australia ending in divorce, there are a huge array of resources available to reach for. Therefore, if you find yourself struggling, help is at! There’s a great range of books to help children cope with divorce aimed at all age groups. And the Internet will always deliver with age-appropriate websites. Try Kids Turn or I Am A Child Of Divorce. Or look outside the box and consider a memory jar or a meditation/anti-anxiety app.
8. LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED WHEN PARENTING THROUGH SEPARATION
Children need to feel loved in order to thrive in all areas of life. Divorce can bring confusion to their little minds and the result can leave them questioning themselves and whether they are loved enough. Consequently, it is your job to put their minds at ease constantly. Tell them you love them in as many different ways as you can. Pop a note in their packed lunch box telling them you love them. Serve their dinner in a love heart design. Or, if they have a phone, text some love hearts. If the love is clear and unconditional they will feel stronger and cope better.
9. BRING OUT THE ACTOR WITHIN
I’m not saying you should sugarcoat everything for your children. Parenting through separation requires honesty and respect. However there are times when a heartfelt smile and some happy vibes can go a long way … even if you don’t feel in the mood. At change-over or a school award ceremony, make sure you have your happy hat on. If it’s hard, try deep breathing or meditation to get you through. Remember, you don’t have to be openly hostile for them to sense bitter undercurrents.
10. CLEAR AND CONSISTENT CO-PARENTING
Co-parenting can be difficult territory. Not just for the parents but for children too. As a result, getting it to run smoothly can take effort, patience and a lot of tongue biting. It’s important to establish a routine that works long-term for everybody. Children adapt easily to change if it’s controlled and realistic. Most importantly, establish rules with your ex early on and stick to them, even if he chooses not too. There are some fabulous co-parenting apps available that help with organisation and consistency.