Staying intact throughout a separation is hard enough, but then there are the children who will also be broken-hearted for a while.
Broken hearts don't mean a separation shouldn't happen. When a relationship has run its course it's likely the children will have felt the tension or the fading of one or both of you, and that's not good for anyone.
If there's trouble and you're the one reading this, you're probably not the one who needs to most. Keep reading though. Tweak what you can, take comfort that you're on the right track and send the link in the direction it needs to sail, maybe with a non-told-you-so-message, 'Because the kids deserve two brilliant parents...' (or something like that).
As hard as it is to hold on through the wreckage, you can bring kids safely and soundly through to the other side. Here are eight ways to keep them on track:
1. Minimise what they have to cope with.
Kids are resilient, just like grown-ups, but in the same way a break-up can bring those resilient grown-ups to their knees, it can do the same to those resilient children. Resilient doesn't mean bullet-proof. Kids will cope with the day-to-day changes. Any emotional wreckage they're drawn into will fall them.
2. Don't use them for support.
They need to know you're the lamplight, ladder and leaning post for them and that you're stable, even if you aren't, which for periods you won't be. You're human and you're real and it's completely okay for you to fall apart, so go for it. Just not in front them.
3. If you've met someone else, leave your relationship first.
It happens and it's not for anyone to judge who you fall in love with and the timing of that. What you will be judged on is the way you treat the person you're leaving on the way out. You'll be co-parents forever and you'll want your ex on side as much as possible. Nothing will fire conflict more than starting a relationship while the person you're still with has every reason to expect your loyalty.
4. Love your kids more than you want to hate your ex.
This is critical. Don't trash talk your ex in front of your kids. Anything a parent does to undermine the relationship between a child and the other parent will have consequences. The research is clear. Parents who interfere with the relationship between a child and the other parent will ultimately have a less close relationship with that child. You probably would have fought with warrior daring once to protect your ex-partner from slap talk. Your kids will feel the same. You can find someone else. They only have one mum and one dad. Don't take that person away. Undermine their relationship and there'll be a hefty price to pay.
5. If you're with a conflict-provoking ex, hold steady.
Kids will see the truth one day. The parent who loves his or her children enough to respect their relationship with the other parent will end up closer to the children than the parent who doesn't. It's not a competition, but it is a fact.
6. 'But what about me?'
Explain how things will work as soon as you can, to give them the stability and predictability they need. Let them know where they'll be living, what the separation means for their relationship with the other parent and that you'll all be okay.
7. Be patient with your ex if he or she is struggling without you.
It's very likely that in a separation at least one parent will feel on the brink at some point. Children are directly impacted by the well-being of both parents so be compassionate and empathic. The person who is driving you crazy with their unreasonable behavior is devastated to have lost you. Remember that, and be patient until they find their way out.
8. Separation is not failure.
People come into our lives to teach us or to learn. That doesn't mean the learnings take a lifetime to unfold. If at some point the growing came to be apart, that doesn't mean the relationship wasn't beautiful, important or exactly what you needed when you were in it. What it means is that it's given you all it needed to. Don't stay for longer than you have to just because once upon a time you said you would. If you're the one holding on, let go - you deserve more than to be with someone who wants to be somewhere else.
There's no reason children won't come through a separation safe and sound but this depends on how their parents deal with the fallout. Kids will cope provided the adults don't draw them into a dirty heaving mess.
Stabilising the ground while your falling on your knees towards it is a heroic effort. But that's what parents are aren't they. Heroes.
This post originally appeared on heysigmund.com