As Paula Hall, relationship psychotherapist and author of Help Your Children Cope with Your Divorce, puts it, 'even though you're not partners any more, you're still both their parents.' Whatever the reason for separating, we owe it to children to do our best to protect them from the consequences, even if it's impossible to shelter them altogether. By being aware of your behaviour and interactions with your ex, you can go some way to limit the damage:
1. Try to be civil in front of the children.
Paula advises: 'The most important thing of all is keeping any conflict away from the kids. Research shows it's this and lack of good contact [see below] which causes problems.' It's tricky to be civil if you hate the sight of each other at the moment but for their sake, try your best.
2. Never use your kids as a weapon to get at your ex.
The classic 'using the children as pawns' scenario is easily done if you're feeling bitter and resentful but it's crucial to avoid doing this, according to Paula. Actions such as stopping them speaking on the phone are not fair on your kids and will risk harm to their wellbeing. 'Even if your emotions run high, you need to manage them and separate this from the parenting decisions you need to make,' says Paula.
3. Watch what you say about your ex-partner when the children are around.
If you're upset by something your ex has done (or indeed everything...), it's tempting to slip into making negative remarks about them in front of your children. But remember your kids are 50% of each of you - saying derogatory things about their other parent can damage their self esteem. It could leave them feeling confused and torn between agreeing with you and being loyalty to your ex. If you need to let off steam – which is entirely normal – do so with sympathetic friends once the children are out of earshot. Counselling might also help.
4. Be supportive and encouraging about contact with the 'non-resident' parent.
This is another vital factor determining the impact of parents' divorce on children. Ensure they have as much time and communication with the other parents as possible (obviously barring extreme situations such as where they have been abusive). If you ex wants to phone them before bedtime or email them each day, it's generally a good thing.
5. Don't use your kids to spy on what your ex is up to.
Desperate to know whether she's been dating or he's keeping the house in order? Try not to get the children to tell all - it's really not fair on them and again, can make them feel confused over loyalties or worried that they might get in trouble with your ex for telling you.
6. Take care to avoid over-compensating for the situation.
Extra presents or avoiding disciplining them because you feel guilty or want to be the favourite parent are not a good move and can cause wider problems, even if they seem the easy option in the short term.
For further advice and information on parenting through and after divorce: Help Your Children Cope with Your Divorce: A Relate Guide, by Paula Hall, published by Vermilion.
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