The only way to navigate divorce when kids are involved
I don't think I have ever presented to a group of parents without someone asking about the impact of separation or divorce on their children.
This is understandable. It is a topic that is fraught with high emotions, particularly guilt, sadness and worry for the parents going through it.
I absolutely acknowledge that separation of biological parents is not necessarily an ideal scenario but I refuse to say that it causes irreversible damage to children. Parents separating is clearly the better option than children seeing their parents always argue or be consistently unhappy in their relationship.
More importantly, you want to role model an appropriate partnership to your children and it is better if they don't think that being regularly quarrelsome with a significant other is normal.
Actually, research shows separation is not as catastrophic as it is portrayed.
While we cannot downplay the sadness children will feel, the negative impact of separation on them will reduce over time if the other essential elements of their life, such as financial security and feeling loved, remain relatively unscathed.
So, what can you do when you realise that despite your best efforts it is not going to be possible for you to stay with your child's parent?
Try to organise most of the details before you speak to your children to be able to reassure them that you have it sorted, such as accommodation for the parent who is moving out. If you don't have all the details worked out, then show utter confidence in your ability to manage it.
Now is the time to use your best poker face, as it will truly worry your children if they believe you are not coping or cannot control your sadness or anger.
Try to organise a time for both parents to sit down and calmly explain the situation to your children. Make sure that you only give them the details that they are mature enough to handle and keep some details from them if it might make children choose sides.
Of primary importance here is that you are respectful of their other parent, even if they aren't present for the conversation. Dividing your child's loyalties to even the score is unnecessarily cruel and your children should not have to be the jury on a case you insist on arguing to them.
Assure your children that both parents still love them and that the separation is not their fault, particularly if they are still at an age where everything is still about them.
Now is not the time to push any separate agendas of tidy rooms or their attitude.
Essential advice for parents in this early stage is not to feel too guilty. Guilt is the enemy of good parenting because of the emotional toll it takes on you. More importantly it also takes the common sense out of parenting and makes you overindulge your children for what you see as your "very terrible mistakes".
A constant relaxation of the rules will end up having even more of an impact on your children than the separation itself. Also, by constantly apologising to your child you will start them believing they are much more a victim than is good for their wellbeing.
The most important thing is to remember that you have done your best and yet things didn't work out.
Even if you made mistakes, you have to give yourself permission to move forward, rather than berate yourself for being human.
Ticked all those boxes? Great! So, what are you going to do post-separation to make sure it all goes well for your children?
Hold that thought - I'll answer it in next week's column.
TAKEAWAY FOR PARENTS
Still together? Kids thrive when their parents get on, so try to divorce-proof your relationship.
Here are some tips:
■ At the end of the day, greet your partner as warmly as you greet your children. Don't smother your kids with hugs but snarl at your partner because they forgot to pick bread and milk up on the way home.
■ When you do greet each other - make sure the person who has spent most time with the children is asked first how their day was.
■ Show your children that their parents have a good relationship. Keep connected by getting a babysitter to go on dates or spend time catching up while the children amuse themselves.
Send your questions to Dr Judith at firstname.lastname@example.org