Separating is a difficult thing to do on its own, but when you are going through a marriage separation with kids, things can start to resemble a living hell. Going through all the emotional and practical difficulties of the separation often strain all your strength, regardless of how cordial the situation might be. But when you have children of any age, you need to be even more composed and to endure the process while finding ways to make it easy on them.
It’s normal that you probably feel guilt over the separation, whatever the circumstances might be, and it’s also normal if you feel like you’re well over your head. But here are some pieces of advice on how to handle the situation so that the children adapt to the new constellation of relationships in the least painful way.
1. Be respectful while communicating with your ex-spouse
Exacerbating the conflict will do no good to anyone, and it will reflect on the children. So, when you meet the next time, try to create some rules about how you are going to talk to each other.
And never communicate with your ex through the child – you need to protect the child as much as possible, so avoid putting your son or daughter in the midst of the conflicts of adults. If you just can’t talk to your ex in a civilized way, consider a family mediator to help you find a routine and the best line of action for your family.
2. Take the time to talk to your children for as long as they need you to
They surely sensed the problems between you and your ex long before you decided to split, even if they did not witness your fights or the detachment. Yet, when they don’t have enough information about what is happening, they might be prone to blaming themselves and for reconstructing the reality.
But if you take the time to talk to them and explain the reasons behind the separation, they won’t be left to their own imagination. Of course, you need to be aware of your child’s age and how many information is appropriate; but in all cases, you should be honest and provide good reasons for this major change in their lives. And don’t forget to reassure them and let them know that the separation is only between the two of you and that you remain a family and their parents.
3. Listen to your children and allow them to react to the change
Depending on the age, your children will react differently to the separation. Very young children might go through a phase of sleeping problems or could become clingy. Older children and adolescents could become aggressive, angry, and these feelings could periodically be replaced with sadness and depression. While all of these are normal reactions to a not so normal situation, you need to be on the watch for signs of pathology and to contact a therapist if you think your child’s reaction is excessive either in duration or intensity.
4. Maintain a Routine in these times of chaos and instability
Try to maintain a routine for the sake of your children’s and your own wellbeing.
If you used to go and get an ice-cream on Saturday mornings, continue with the habit. If possible, try waiting for other necessary changes (such as changing school) until they get accustomed to their new family lives. Encourage the children to continue with their hobbies and extracurricular activities, and support them in meeting with their friends as much as possible.
5. Reassure your children that the separation has nothing to do with them
Many children feel guilty and believe that they might have caused problems between their parents with their low marks, fussiness, or any other small thing that they did and possibly overheard in your arguments. It is your responsibility as a parent to help them understand that your separation is something that is going on between you and your partner and that they have no fault in it.
A separation of marriage is never a painless process. It is a time of great emotional confusion for everyone, in addition to many pragmatic issues the family needs to resolve. And children of any age usually have strong emotional reactions to the separation, experiencing a range of feelings, from guilt to anger. However, you, as a parent, can do a lot to help the child cope.
And if you do still have positive communication with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse over children, you can work as a team and make this change as unproblematic as possible.