Separation and divorce is stressful. Probably the most stressful thing you could ever contemplate. It throws at you countless situations that you may not have dealt with before - from how to fix a leaky tap to how to pacify an unsettled child.
There is no guide or handbook which will answer every situation or solve every problem. But is there any general advice that can be given to guide people through the trauma that they face?
Here are a few ideas that could help:
• In the immediate aftermath of a separation you may feel that you can't function. It is however important that you stay healthy and focused. You still do need to eat properly, sleep and fully function as an adult. The last thing you want is to become unwell and let your children's home or work lives suffer.
• Take some time. You are entering a new post marriage world and you need time to think and assess your position. Where are you now and where do you want to be in say 1, 3 and 5 years from now. Think about the challenges ahead, be they child-related, financial or soon to be ex spouse related, and try to make some plans for your future.
• A good support network is vital. You will want and need to speak to people who you trust and whose advice you can rely upon - this could be friends, family members or professionals. They will all help you share the burden of your separation.
• Don't be hard on yourself and don't expect too much from yourself.
• Don't forget the impact of your separation on any children involved. They will be suffering too and will need you to be there for them. If they are of sufficient age and understanding take the time to explain to them what is happening - with your former partner if possible. Avoid being critical of your partner - they will always be your children's parent and open hostility between you will be picked up by them and make them even more unsettled.
• Children (and adults) like routine so try to maintain those routines and avoid too many changes and unnecessary disruption. Maintain ordinary family life in situations like bath time, bedtime and story time. These will help your children to maintain a sense of normalcy in difficult times.
• Create good times in their memory bank. Visit the theme park/beach/restaurant that they have been nagging you to take them too. It will help them to realise that there is life after their parents' separation and that they can still have fun.
• What your children want more than anything is time with their parents. They want undivided attention. Tell them that you are having "special time" together and make sure they know that it is important to you too. Let the children speak and avoid criticizing them. Focus on them and give them the opportunity to talk. It will be time well spent.
You will get through it, and might even get to learn how to fix that leaky tap along the way.
Jonathan West is head of family law at Prolegal
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