I hope that I never have to put my children through this, marriage can be a challenge sometimes and I know a few people that have gone through separation: the children have nearly always become a pawn in the situation, in some way. When I went through it as a child I do not remember feeling like a “pawn”, but it was a difficult time. I think maintaining a “child-focused” atmosphere, where the rights of the children of a marriage/partnership to have a safe and secure environment in which to live and to maintain healthy relationships with both parents is the most important thing. 

Separation or divorce can irrevocably alter children’s lives. However, there are plenty of ways that couple can ensure that their life choices have the minimum negative impact on their children. Here are a few:

Collaborative Practice

A fast-growing trend in family law circles, collaborative practice may be the most effective way to avoid the adversarial nature of the courts and traditional mediation. One leading divorce lawyer in Melbourne refers to it as “civilised separation”. By focusing firmly on solutions, rather than problems, and allowing each spouse to have the support of a team that will help guide them through the process, collaborative practice can drastically reduce the conflict that former partners experience.

Keep It Positive

Whilst the love between former spouses or partners may have faded, the children will almost always continue to love both their parents dearly. Abusing, deriding or disrespecting a former partner in front of the children can cause them immense psychological damage. Children are likely already struggling to come to process radical changes in family circumstances and living conditions. Hear parents speaking disparagingly about each other adds insult to injury. No matter what their feelings, parents should always make every effort to be civil, respectful and polite when speaking to or about their former partners.

Your Children Are Not Your Messengers

Once a couple is no longer together, children will be moving between two environments in which the structure and parenting style can differ markedly. It can be tempting for parents to utilise children to indirectly communicate messages regarding parenting to their former partner. Even where the intentions are entirely innocent, such practice can place children in an extremely uncomfortable position. Children never want to feel caught in the middle, so parents should always communicate with each other directly.

Let Go

The overwhelming consensus amongst psychologists is that not only is it completely OK for there to be different rules and structures in different homes; but such a dynamic can contribute to children growing up more adaptable, versatile and mentally resilient. As much as it may irk one parent to know that their kids watch more TV than they are comfortable with, or not eat as healthily at their other parent’s home, the sooner they accept these facts and let them go, the better. Harping on to children about the lifestyle that they experience in their other home will only lead to confusion and disillusion.

Safe Space to Communicate

No matter what their age, all children benefit from having the freedom to communicate during what is a tumultuous time in their lives. Even very young children are capable of experiencing surprisingly sophisticated emotions in response to changing family circumstances. As hard as it is, parents should speak frequently to their children in an open, compassionate, non-threatening way. This ensures that they feel comfortable expressing any fears, concerns, anger or sadness that they feel and have support to work through it. Parents who feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable in such situations are strongly recommended to have their children speak with a qualified child psychologist.

Every marriage, every breakup and every child is different. Just make sure that the children are the ones benefitting from the process, ensuring the transfer of home ownership is fair and everyone is supported is essential. For example, the quitclaim deed form gives the new home owner whatever interest the current owner has in the property when the deed is signed and delivered. While there is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution, following these guidelines will help both parents and children to navigate a difficult time in their lives.

Heart image from Shutterstock. 

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