Children can assess the temperature of our moods with alarming accuracy, no matter what their age. Often the child’s perception that ‘something is wrong’ is quite often more accurate than we realize ourselves.
Retaining healthy relationships, wherever possible, will help to reduce the stress in the family, and in particular when dealing with the ex. Regardless of the quality of your relationship with your former partner, you are now responsible for bringing up your child jointly, but separately.
How do you work through key issues with your ex partner?
What guidelines, do you both lay down and how consistent, are you both? Are you ever tempted to buy favour with your child? What are the messages they receive from you doing this?
Children are very sensitive to our moods. If we can explain to our children why we’re feeling anxious it will help them to understand and they may not be so worried by our behavior. For example, “I’m sorry, I’m a bit tense today as I’ve just had the phone bill in.
” It’s much easier for a child to handle something specific, rather than to just see you in tears or in tantrums! Also, some children always assume it is their fault, and it’s good for your children to know that they are not the problem.
How do you speak about your ex in front of your child? What important message, are you sending to your child about their father or their mother? How do you think your child feels about hearing their parent criticized? Have you considered that your child might still miss their estranged mum or dad – regardless of how you feel?
All by myself It is easy to underestimate the complex tensions that accompany divorce – even a fairly amicable one. Your child may be angry and upset because one of his parents has left, but as you’re the only parent around for him to vent his feelings on he is likely to take it out on you. Your child may become sullen and awkward or loud and angry.
It’s very hard for you on top of everything else that you have to cope with. However, try not to take it personally. Try to understand your child’s feelings of dislocation and try and take a positive view. How do you allow your child to express themselves, however negative the emotion? What ways do you allow your child to let go of hurt feelings and resentment? How do you handle the anger and accusations? Do you argue back, or leave it until she’s calm and in a more receptive mood? What are the long-term disadvantages to ‘slagging off’ your ex partner. How might this damage your relationship with your child? Will it help if you didn’t see it as a competition?
Positive Parent Top Tip
However bitter you may feel toward your ex, however hard you may find it to forgive, think about the benefits of maintaining a degree of civility with them. You will not be able to control what your ex partner does or says but you can control your own actions. If your partner continues to use your children as pawns, your best move is to refuse to play chess! The greatest temptation, particularly if your partner is behaving obnoxiously, is to return like with like. But what are you teaching your children?
It can be a lonely and confusing place for children during this difficult time. Just like bereavement, healing is not linear, so it can take however long it takes!
Here are some Positive Parenting Top Tips that have been drawn from the experience of mums and dads who have had broken relationships.
1. If at all possible, be positive about your ex. Tell your child that you both love him.
2. Don’t criticise your ex – keep in mind that it’s their mum or dad you’re talking about.
3. Leave photos of the missing parent around, use their name. It’s important that your ex is still part of your child’s life.
4. Encourage your child to keep in contact with the non-resident parent. Show respect by sending them a birthday card.
5. Try to encourage your child to see her mum or dad. Try to encourage the relationship, or at least keep the doors open for better things to come.
6. Don’t use your child as a messenger or a spy.
7. Discuss with your ex about Christmas, weekends, and who’s going to have who and when. And stick to the arrangement if at all possible – children need stability.
8. Encourage your child to continue their relationship with their other parent. There will always be long-term issues to work out and face and the quicker that they do that the easier it will become.
9. Remember it’s important to keep your promises to your child. He may feel let down by one or both of his parents so only make promises to him that you can keep.
10. Keep reassuring your child that the breakup is nothing to do with her, especially if your child continues to seem anxious about it. It’s important that your child doesn’t blame herself.
Another difficult area when relationships break down concerns the ‘in-laws’. The only thing to suggest is that you do the right thing for your child. Even if it’s not what you would want to happen. Seeing and being in contact with the in-laws may be an unpleasant or painful experience for you, but they are still a very relevant part of your child’s family, their culture, and their heritage. It is healthy for your child to have a sense of family that includes all relatives. Success doesn’t happen overnight, and often calls for much personal sacrifice and self-discipline. But it’s worth all the effort in order to provide a stable environment for your children so they can grow up to be happy, confident and well-balanced adults.
Written by Sue Atkins. Parenting Expert, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster and Coach. Visit www.sueatkinsparentingcoach.com for further information.