All children and young people will have thoughts and feelings about their parents’ behaviour and how it affects them. Over time, they will also think about what can or should have been done about their parents’ decision to live apart. They will also try to make sense of their own emotions about the situation.
Children, like adults, will find ways of coping with their thoughts and emotions. However, they haven’t yet achieved full emotional maturity, so don’t have the knowledge or life-experience to make decisions in the same way. Without the right kind of support and guidance your children will try to figure out what to do for themselves, and may stick to particular strategies or behaviours because they can’t think what else might work better.
Depending on their age, personality and what else is going on in their world, your children may try a range of strategies including asking for help and attention, acting up, checking what their peers think or do, distracting themselves, trying to fix things to make parents feel better or reunite, blaming themselves or others, or finding other people they think will value them and give them attention. As a concerned parent you will naturally want to be aware of what they are doing and why, and what you can do to steer them towards more positive ways of thinking, coping and leading a happy life.
This can be a tall order indeed, when you’re feeling hurt, anxious, concerned about your future and the behaviour of the other parent and are having to find your own coping strategies. Your children may not always be giving each of you the full picture. They may appear to be fine, perhaps working harder at school, enjoying hobbies etc but if you and the other parent are in conflict or living circumstances have changed, it’s worth considering whether your children are coping well, or whether they are pedalling hard under the surface, to avoid adding to your worries. There are some simple measures you can take to reassure yourself you’re making things as easy as possible for them.
Mediation can help you and the other parent focus on what you can both do to help your children cope with change, as well as making living and parenting arrangements that will work best for them. This common goal can help improve communication and let you find ways of responding to each other, that don’t let past hurts and resentments get in the way of your children’s needs. Where appropriate, Child Inclusive Mediation can help you learn what your children feel would help them most.
Parenting Coordination is a more in-depth process, relevant if you both feel that hurt, mistrust and resentment have become entrenched, and conflict has become a habit. It can be an effective way of making the necessary changes which will facilitate effective co-parenting.
If you’re worried about how you or your children are coping with the challenging business of parenting apart, I have prepared a list of resources for Parents and a list of resources for Children and Teens.
……… please be reassured, your feelings of loss and wanting to know what happened and what could help, are absolutely normal.
Know also that you are not the reason your parents no longer want to be together. The fact that you might have heard them argue about you and their decision, doesn’t mean they don’t want or love you. It might feel that way to you, but remember, they’re being distracted by the hurt and resentment they feel about each other and possibly life in general at the moment. This can make it difficult for them to always remember you need to be able to love them both, and also to feel sure they love you.
The bond of love between parent and child has been evolved by nature to be stronger than any bond between adults who choose to be in a relationship. Adults can and do decide they don’t want to be with each other, and some find new partners. But children can never be replaced. It is impossible to forget you are a parent and impossible to forget that you are somebody’s child.
In some ways, it’s because adults know the parent-child bond is so strong, that they sometimes allow themselves to be distracted by other concerns. They feel their forever connection with you will always be there. Sometimes they feel so hurt by the other parent that they believe you are at risk of being hurt by that parent too. They might not yet believe they are able to stop fighting, and they worry that seeing them fight, will hurt you more. If they remain distracted for a long time, then feelings of shame and a fear of being judged, may make it hard for them to find their way back to you. Some parents cope by saying “I don’t want to disturb my child’s new life”. Parents also sometimes don’t stop to appreciate, that in the time they are physically or emotionally away from you, you will be growing up, so the relationship you have when they return, will be different. Different doesn’t have to be worse, but it can take time and effort for you all to reconnect, and make things better.
If your parents are going to Mediation to work out the best ways of living apart and looking after you, you might want to ask if you can meet the mediator for your own private session, to say what you think. We call this Child Inclusive Mediation. Parents still make the major decisions, but you can state your opinions about what your parents could do to make things better for you. You can also ask the Mediator anything at all that you want to know about how Mediation works, as well as finding out more about the separation or divorce process. In mediation, you and your parents get to keep confidential, anything that’s not for sharing.
If your parents are not going to mediation and have asked the Court to make decisions about you for them, then depending on your age and the decisions to be made, you might be able to talk to a Court Welfare Officer (CAFCASS) (Cafcass hyperlink) in confidence, and give your opinions. Not every Court case takes children’s views in this way, but when they do, CAFCASS officers write a report to tell your parents and the Judge what they think would be in your best interests. They might recommend your parents do things differently, or suggest bringing in some more professional help to make things better.
If talking to your parents is difficult and you feel you’d like to talk privately to someone else, a good place to start is your teacher or school welfare department. They will know where else you can get help, should you need more than they can give. Alternatively, if you would rather start by talking to someone independent who has never met your parents, you might want to get in touch with Voices in the Middle or Childline 0800 1111. Or, I’ve made a list of some relevant Books and other Resources that you might like to consider