I remember the days when my children were very young and I was considering separation from their father. My agonising thoughts were how will this affect them and could I hold on until they were through school, just so they could live with both parents? Well I couldn’t, and I didn’t! Sometime later I joined the single parent brigade as we were called then.
The emotions were in turmoil. I felt a failure and hugely concerned about how my decision would affect the children. People rallied around and I can still hear those words today. ‘Children are very resilient, they will be fine. Better to live with one parent in a peaceful household than two in conflict.’ That was a slight comfort and gave me some strength. But……There’s always a but isn’t there! Time marches on, and whilst my children have grown up and have children of their own, I look at how society has changed since then. Not that I’m that old of course, but separation has become so easy. More and more children seem to live in divided families and that brings new tensions and pressures of its own.
Children growing up may have a great relationship with a step-parent whilst young, but what about when adolescence kicks in and the real challenges begin? ‘You can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my father.’ We have all heard that one. I could write a book on this subject but time doesn’t allow. Then many others have done so and there is plenty of great reading material out there.
As someone who has not only been in a personal separation situation, I have witnessed dozens. The nature of my job, for many years has been working in Early Years. We have to be aware that children are indeed affected by separation. Of course they are, and we must stop lying to ourselves about it. All we can do once that decision has been made is to remember the needs of the child are paramount. Easier said than done, when overwhelming emotions get in the way of those difficult decisions during the transition process. Given time things generally settle down, but below I have listed a few things that I believe to be helpful.
• Co-parenting is great wherever possible, enabling the child to spend an equal amount of time with both parents. I realise that only works if both parents are still in the same locality. This is also better done in block to avoid any confusion for the child constantly shifting from one household to another. But ….remember. yes there’s always a but! Allow the child to have contact with the other parent whether that means a phone call at bedtime or a quick chat before school. It helps with any separation anxiety knowing that the parent is still around.
• A sleep pattern and routines need to be agreed by both parents so the child feels safe and protected. Varying ground rules and boundaries at different homes are not helpful.
• It is important that everyone is in agreement with behaviour modification.
• Step-mum, step-dad, please keep your opinions to yourself about the ex-partner.
• Wherever possible leave any disciplinary action to the biological parent. It’s important to remember that children will adjust to separation given time, though it could take up to two years. Conflict between the parents must be minimised to avoid further childhood stress. If parents manage to be respectful and keep the child’s interests as their shared focus the child is more likely to thrive.
Meanwhile something which I see as becoming a major problem today is with the onset of the extended family. Larger families, more grandparents and more presents for birthdays and Christmas! With each family wanting to shower their child with gifts, most are receiving double what they would normally receive. And perhaps there is some competition if one parent has more cash than another. The simple matter of fact is we are rearing a spoilt generation. With spoilt children on the rise is it going to have harmful effects on their attitudes as adults?
Oh so sad, so very very sad!