Children & Marital Separation

As you know, separation cannot and does not end your role as a parent. Parents are forever. Children need the ongoing interest and care of their parents, and it is important that they continue to have contact with each parent. Children need to experience the continued love and involvement of each parent even if these parents could not live happily with each other.

It is our hope that the information on this website will assist you in helping your children cope with your separation with a minimum of hurt.  The practical guidelines which follow are based on our knowledge and experience as professional marital and family therapists.

If you are like most people, you probably have some feelings of isolation, despair, depression, loneliness, grief, guilt and a loss of confidence.  You are worried about many things such as the welfare of your children, finances, a new social life, career issues, fulfillment of sexual needs and the possibility of a permanent intimate relationship.  You can use this time of difficulty as an opportunity for growth despite the pain and loneliness.

The way you cope with this difficult process will influence the way in which your children adjust.  You may naturally feel bitter, angry and resentful at times but by clarifying your attitudes and values and by using help available to you, you can successfully make the adjustment to separation and facilitate the positive adjustment of your children.  This is a time of loss.  You may experience a loss in terms of standards of living,but more importantly it involves the loss of companionship, of emotional security and at least the loss of dreams, goals and aspirations.

Children also experience loss and may feel insecure and angry.  This is a normal and acceptable response to any major loss, and it need not be detrimental to their future development.  Children who cope constructively can become more self-accepting, more mature and clearer about their values and goals in life.

You also can get to know yourself better, to become involved with experiences that provide opportunities for you to again feel success and satisfaction, restore your confidence, pursue goals that will make your life productive, satisfying and meaningful.

The task of all parents, whether or not a marriage continues is not easy.  Nobody knows all the answers, but by enabling your children to continue the contact with both of you, their parents, and by supporting one another to continue this fundamentally important task you best prepare yourself for future problems and difficulties, and the time when you can allow them leave the home with your good will and acceptance, knowing you have prepared them to the best of your ability.

General Guidelines

Here are some guidelines so you can continue to be effective as a parent and meet your children’s needs.

1. Allow yourself and your children time for adjustment.  The acknowledgement of your own sense of loss and sadness is the best way to facilitate the grief process in your children.  Children may need to grieve as they redirect their energy into appropriate interests and pursuits.

2. Do not lose sight of the positive aspects of your marriage.  Allow yourself to acknowledge these aspects and to share them with your children.

3. Assure your children that they are not to blame for the break-up and that they are not being rejected or abandoned.  Children, especially the young ones, often feel they have done something wrong and believe that they are to blame for the problems in the family. The end of a marriage relationship often leads children to fear that their relationship with one or both parent will end.  This is particularly true if one parent leaves the family home.  They should be reassured of both parents’ love and concern, and informed of the arrangements to maintain contact.

4. Continuing anger or bitterness toward your former partner can injure your children far more that the separation itself.  The feelings you show are more important than the words you use.  Refrain from voicing criticism of the other parent.  It is difficult but absolutely necessary for a child’s healthy development.  It is important that the child respect both parents.

5. Do not force or encourage your children to take sides.  To do so encourages frustration, guilt and resentment.

6. Do not discourage your child’s questioning about separation.  It may be difficult to respond to questions adequately, but children, like adults have a need to understand the major events affecting their lives, and as their capacity to understand increases with age they may repeat the same questions.  Be as honest and direct as possible while avoiding blame or acrimony.  Avoid discussions of who is to blame.  Judgmental views do not help children or parents to adjust and move on in their lives.

Child care arrangements

From the child’s point-of-view the most desirable arrangement is one in which both parents continue their role as parents from the time of separation, and share the responsibility as equally as possible.  This is the most effective way of dealing with a child’s sense of rejection; it decreases feelings that the separation happened because she or he is a bad child; and reduces fears that a parent may disappear from his or her life.

The ideal arrangement is one in which each parent provides a home for the children within travelling distance of their schools.  The children and parent then continue to have a meaningful place in one another’s lives.  This requires a commitment of the parents to co-operating with one another in such matters as:

1. Sharing information regarding events of interest in the children’s lives such as medical and school reports, recreational achievements, illnesses etc.  Schools will usually agree to give notices in duplicate to the children.

2. Preparing the children physically and emotionally for the transition to the other parent.  Children may take time to get used to the new procedure, and the sooner after separation the routine is established the quicker and better the children adjust to it.  Children will naturally feel sad leaving a parent and may be upset returning to the other parent.  It would be a mistake to interpret this mild distress as a negative reflection on the quality of either parent’s relationship with the child.

3. Sharing the care of the children should help them to maintain a positive relationship with both parents.  It is important that neither parent is critical or hostile towards the other parent in the presence of the children.  Children tend to view such attacks as attacks on them.

4. The question is often asked “Should the children have contact with the father’s girlfriend” or “the mother’s boyfriend”.  Such contact can dilute the quality of the parent-child relationship and can give rise to added anxieties during the adjustment to separation phase.  However, it should not be ruled out.  It is best to introduce new partners in a gradual manner.  No-one can replace the love children have for their parents, but they can also develop other valuable relationships at the same time.

5. Arrangements should be as clear and detailed as possible and changed only with the agreement of the other parent.

6. Deliver the children or have them available promptly at the time agreed.

The Clanwilliam Institute offer help to separating couples in the form of:

  • Mediation of Separation Agreements.
  • Consultation and Counseling, regarding adjustment to separation, and dealing with the children.

    to arrange an appointment Contact Office at 01-6761363