Separation and divorce is a change that affects a number of Australian families each year. With 40% of all marriages ending in divorce the Australian Institute of Family Studies states that divorce is impacting on 50,000 children each year. Some children will experience more than one parental divorce or separation during their childhood.
Divorce and separation is not a single event but a process that all members of the family move through over a period of time. It involves multiple changes and multiple challenges for parents and children.
The number one concern for parents when separation and/or divorce is looming is “How is this going to affect the children?” The reliable research is now showing that under the right circumstances, children whose parents separate and divorce manage just as well in the long term as children whose parents stay together.
There are a number of ways parents can help their children cope with this change so that they continue to grow and develop, reaching their full potential as individuals.
Don’t fight: Stay out of conflict with the other parent. High levels of prolonged conflict have been cited by research as the number one factor which leads to negative short and long term outcomes for children experiencing separation or divorce.
Keep children out of the middle:Avoid using the children as confidantes or messengers. Find a way to communicate that doesn’t involve the children. It is very important not to depend on them for emotional support. They need you to support them through the difficulties.
Honesty: It is important to be honest. Children need to know something about the separation otherwise they will often blame themselves. They need to be informed but not overwhelmed. Make sure the information is age appropriate, for example, how you explain separation to a 3 year old will be quite different to how you explain it to a 13 year old.
Communicate: Give clear messages that you are open to talking with your children about their thoughts and feelings and that you are willing to listen and will try to answer any questions.
Consistency: One of the most important things for children at this time is stability and consistency. Although some change is inevitable, try to keep as much as possible the same, for example, rules in the home, expectations of behaviour, routines, extra-curricular activities, and contact with extended family,. Continue to discipline and manage behaviour as you normally would even though it is difficult to be consistent when you are grieving or angry. Children can adapt to differences between households as long as each household maintains consistency.
Parenting Agreements: Develop a “Parenting Agreement” and negotiate arrangements for the children to ensure that they know that you are encouraging a continuing relationship with the other parent and their extended family. Make agreements that focus at all times on the children’s needs.
For more information or to make an appointment please call Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277.