That you and your ex are going through a break-up is a huge deal for your children no matter what age including infants and toddlers.
One thing you need to know about infants is that not only are they extremely sensitive to their environment but they are also very much aware when someone, whom they have been seeing frequently, is no longer available or present. (There is plenty to say about the 0 – 3 year olds and divorce but that’s a whole other article).
The thing with divorce or separation, is that it is one of those times where your parenting skills and abilities are tested to the limit!
Here you are busy going through a hellish, challenging time that is possibly preoccupying your every thought and time of your day, while simultaneously being expected to be the best parent you can ever be because your children need you to show up even more.
Here’s how you can do that in 5 essential steps:
Listen, understand and love: One of the first important elements of divorce or separation is to acknowledge and accept that the break-up will affect your child. How much will depend on how you and the other parent deal with it and with each other.
Really listen to your children when they speak. Are there any recurring themes that they are not directly asking or talking to you about? Is there a particular game that your young child plays over and over again that might be divorce related.
One six year old, would dress her dolls up ready to go out when their dad came to pick them up. He never showed.
It is ok and actually recommended that you do tell them that you understand that this is not an easy time for them and keep telling them that you love them and that you are there for them.
Show them love as often as possible. This doesn’t mean spending long blocks of time with them, a hug here and there, kind words and positive attention can go a long, long way.
Communicate: Answer their questions. During the divorce process children will have questions about the divorce or separation. They will want to know how it will affect their lives. What is going to change.
Speak frankly and honestly with them but avoid involving them in adult matters or providing them with unnecessary hurtful details.
Without answers, children will allow their imagination to provide them with explanations and interpretations that they so need and we all know who imaginative children can be. If they ask you a question that you have no answer to, then tell them so.
Self-observe: This is a tough time that you are all going through. You will make parenting mistakes, not one but a few.
Being aware of your feelings, thoughts, words and actions can help you deal with and react to most things that come your way. Are you alienating the other parent by what you say and do while the children are present? Are you being civil with the other parent or able to put your own feelings aside for the sake of the children?
Did you know that your thoughts affect your feelings which then affect your behaviour? These three parts of you are so intertwined that not feeling a certain way due to a thought you have had is almost impossible which then means that you will behave or react to that thought in a way that correlates with the thought.
So be mindful of your feelings, thoughts and actions – in what you say and what you – do especially if your children are present or within ear-shot.
Seek professional help and support: When you are not sure, ask. Ask a professional for support and guidance. This is definitely not the time to try and do things yourself. Have a psychotherapist or counsellor work with you and if you are struggling with behavioural problems with your child, work with a parenting practitioner to help you continue parenting your child positively through this time.
Be your child’s compass:Remember that you are not your child’s only influence so you better be the best. As mentioned earlier, this is the time that your children will need you the most – someone to guide them and keep their lives as steady as possible.
Keep them in the fold and bring them back with they wander off – very common with teenagers. They will look to you for what’s right and if they cannot find it, they might look elsewhere.
As I often say, the divorce or separation will always be an important time in your child’s life, but what is even more crucial is how you and your ex handle the divorce process and your lives after separation. Let it be an experience they went through at some point in their lives. Don’t allow it to become an experience that defines them and their future adult relationships.
Soila is a graduate member of the British Psychological Society, Parenting Practitioner, accredited Triple P practitioner, Certified Trauma Specialist and trained Family Mediator. She works in private practice mainly, but not exclusively, with families going through divorce and separation.