How to support your children during divorce.
Every 30 minutes an Australian child experiences the divorce or separation of their family. Australian research (1) consistently shows us that these children are at risk of harm. It is is not the divorce itself that harms the children, rather the conflict that can go on for years and years afterwards which can ensure that many of these children never achieve their full potential. The breakdown of a significant relationship is one of the most difficult grief events any of us will ever experience. Parenting during divorce adds to this challenging time.
Children, like their parents, also experience immense grief during divorce. They too are experiencing the loss of their family and their own hopes and dreams for their future. Depending on their age and understanding, they will process the change in their family in different ways.
Parenting well when we are compromised because of the grief, sadness and loss we are experiencing takes significant courage. “With every end comes a new beginning’– and I like to think of divorce as a chance for a new beginning. The difficulty, particularly for our children, is that this ‘new beginning’ is often not planned, chosen or wanted.
The beauty of being a parent is that every day brings a chance for new opportunities, experiences and challenges. As our children grow and develop and find their own place in the world, so too do we as their parents. I think one of the most beautiful parts of being a parent is the opportunity to see the world all over again, through a fresh set of eyes, through the eyes of a child.
Children see beauty in simplicity. As adults (and perhaps I should only speak for myself) we often lose the capacity to ‘stop and smell the roses’ thanks to ‘life’ getting in the way. Adult life is busy, demanding and even exhausting at times, but I believe childhood should always be ‘carefree’.
Some of the challenges facing parents during a divorce
There are many challenges faced by parents during divorce but there are perhaps 2 that are the most significant-
- Firstly, finding the capacity to ensure your children can experience the joy of just being kids, in circumstances that are anything but ‘carefree’.
- Secondly, balancing the tightrope of managing your own personal grief while still being able to support your children through theirs.
How divorcing parents can address these challenges?
A wise colleague of mine in the Family Courts tells parents:
Our children get the parents they are given, not necessarily the parents they want or need.’
Whether divorcing or not, I think our challenge is to always strive to do our best to be the parents that our children ‘need’ rather than just the ones they happened to ‘get’. This is the key to supporting your children through any difficult time in life. Divorce being one of those times. Here are a few things you can do to really help your kids through-
- Pause and really think about what your children ‘need’ from you. You know your children better than anyone but chances are what they need may be very different from what you want, what you hope for or are even feeling.
- Look for support around you- close friends and family, your children’s school and sporting groups – all can offer great support to your kids during divorce.
- Try and keep things as ‘normal’ as you can for them – keep them going to school, playing sport and meeting friends. Divorce will mean disruption for all of you so the more that you can keep the same, the better for your children.
As a Family Lawyer, I can tell you endless stories of where I have seen parents get this horribly wrong. Thankfully, I can tell you even more stories where separating parents have gotten this so right.
For the parents, that ‘got it right’, I see a common trait or perhaps value that exists for all of them. These parents value their relationships with their children more than anything else in this world. This means that they are inherently able to place the real needs of their children above their own.
It happens without them even realising it. These parents know when to ask for help, know when they have ‘got it wrong’ and strive to always find ways to be the best parent they can be for their children.
I like to think that these parents, in their own way, see the opportunity in their divorce. They still experience the grief, loss and pain of the breakdown of their family very deeply, but despite this, they also see divorce for what it is, a process of change. They see the opportunity and make the best of it that they can. They are the best parent that they can be- the parent, (divorced or not), that their children needs.
- Parenting after Separation and was prepared by Jennifer McIntosh, Susie Burke, Nicole Dour and Heather Gridley in July 2009.