Just as individuals go through life transitions, so do relationships and families. One of the most difficult transitions a family will face is separation. Whilst not all families separate, the reality is that many children will experience at least one, if not more, family separations during their childhood.
Research shows that most parents are able to work out arrangements in an amicable manner when they separate. However, a percentage of parents find it more difficult to reach agreement. This maybe due to the sometimes overwhelming emotions that are experienced during and after separation. It is normal to feel grief, sadness, anger, bitterness, fear and other strong emotions. Difficulties may also be due to feeling intimidated by the other parent and pressured to make certain decisions.
It can be useful during this time to see a counsellor. A counsellor will be non-judgemental and can provide assistance with moving through the separation as smoothly as possible. Terry says "Child and family counselling helped me through this difficult stage”
You may also require some practical assistance after separation. If you need help making arrangements for the children, a mediator, or Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, can help you. Mediators are qualified professionals who assist families to come to an agreement about how to move forward. Terry says “it was during my separation and disputes about our children when I most needed outside help. Family Dispute Resolution meant nothing to me until a mediator helped my ex-wife and I agree on parenting solutions that suited both of us." The mediator will ensure the both of you maintain a focus on the best interests of the children and what they need at this critical time.
There are services available for children as well as parents and it maybe helpful for your child to participate in a group with other children from separated families so they do not feel so different and alone. Counselling can also be useful for children to help them make sense of their situation and to provide them with coping strategies. However, the thing that you can do which will help your children most of all is not to expose them to any conflict between the two of you and to maintain as much stability as possible. Children who are exposed to parental conflict fare much worse, with potentially long-term consequences, than children who are not exposed. Separation itself does not lead to difficulties for children, it’s the way you manage the separation that is important.
Families who experience difficulties with their child contact or changeover arrangements are able to use a Children’s Contact Service or CCS. CCSs provide a safe and neutral environment where fully trained staff provide supervised contact or changeover, without parents having to actually meet. CCSs encourage parents to eventually manage their own arrangements but provide an interim solution for the benefit of the children.
It is normal for all or some members of the family to experience difficulties navigating separation. Rather then struggle alone, it can be helpful to access services specifically designed to assist all family members.