What about the children?
For separating couples who have children, one obvious concern will be the effects on them, and how long-lasting any effects could be. Children will be faced with changes, with decisions taken beyond their control, all of which they will be expecting their parents to sort out for them. And there are ways parents can help them adjust. How parents deal with change will have a big influence on how their children cope if you handle things well, so will your children.
Loss and conflict
Forty years of research worldwide, conducted with parents and children, has highlighted two particular problems children can face- loss and conflict.
Children generally need to spend time with both parents and continue in the relationships they have always known. So the loss of a valued and necessary relationship will be disturbing and upsetting and can undermine self-confidence.Children will want to be reassured of both parents continuing emotional and practical commitment and parents will need to consider how best to do this after separation. A parent who has not been previously very involved can find that by putting aside specific time to spend with them, they can develop a much closer and more satisfying relationship, both for themselves and for the benefit of their children.Where children have not had a particularly close relationship with a parent who then leaves, there may be no immediate sense of loss, but if that relationship then dies away further over time, a child can question their own worth.
The idea that parental disharmony is distressing for children will come as no surprise to many parents who have always avoided arguing in front of their children. However, sometimes, in a new post-separation situation a common cause of conflict is the sharing out of children's time between parents, and if they become aware that this is becoming an issue, children can start to believe that as the argument is about them, they are the cause. Not wanting to see their parents arguing and unhappy can lead them to try and resolve things, and try to please everyone, rather than doing what they would have preferred. They often have an acute sense of fairness, and loyalty and want everyone to get on.
Children need parents who can demonstrate that whatever their differences, they can work together as parents for their children's benefit. Sending messages via them can directly emphasise just how bad communication between parents has become. They need parents who can keep any critical comments about each other to themselves and be civil to each other in company.
What do children want?
Children themselves say they want to know what is going on and don't like being kept in the dark. They say they would like to be consulted over things that concern them, and like to think that their opinion matters, even though they know they can't control what decisions will be taken.
How might children react?
Common reactions to parental separation have been noted through the various research projects, and, of course, children are individuals with their own personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and parents know their children best and will have a sense of whether they are unhappy or coping well. Although for some children their schoolwork suffers, for others school is a safe, familiar place where things are stable, and they cope as well as ever. In terms of age groups it would not be unusual to see some of the following reactions:
look for reassurance and often concentrate on practical arrangements. They may have sad moments and need to cling to the parent who is most often available, and they may return to previously outgrown behaviour and feel insecure for a while. Their reasoning could be that if one parent can leave then so might the other, so it is best to hold tight to the remaining one.
including teenagers, may also feel unsettled and anxious, but they may also be angry that just when they need their parents to be predictable, they are shaking things up. Just when they expected stability, their parents are demonstrating that they can make mistakes. Older children may want to avoid discussions with parents, become withdrawn, or prefer to confide in their peers or others who are not directly involved.
and young adults are not immune from the emotional turmoil of family breakdown and often experience all the shock and distress of younger children but think they should be able to cope in an adult way.
Help for parents and children.
There are numerous books, non-fiction and fiction, to inform parents and help children know that they are not alone in facing changes in their family. We keep a selection in our waiting room for parents and children to browse and additional copies to purchase. There are also leaflets available for children, appropriate to their ages, and Parenting Plan booklets for parents to use together. Anyone can visit us to look at these freely.
Parentline Plus has a website and helpline 0800 800 2222 for help on all parenting matters, and have leaflets available concerning separation and divorce, contact and step-families
Divorce Aid has lots of advice and information for children and parents on its website.
Counselling for children
Sometimes children need more support than parents, families or friends can provide.
Try the sortingoutseparation app or gov.uk to access advice, online courses and training and information nad information.
Professional counselling support to children aged 6-19 in Peterborough may be accessed via GP in some cases or by some schools or directly by private services such as relate.
....Jan 2014 .....Cambridge Family Mediation run a free Countywide course (Department of Education, cafcass and court approved) for separated parents and can be contacted on 01223 576308.