A positive approach
If you have recently separated, you will sometimes have feelings of depression, loneliness, grief, guilt and a loss of self-confidence. You may be worried about many things such as money, a different social life, employment, and your own and your children's needs.
Guidelines for parents
- Understand that separation or divorce is a difficult emotional experience, and time is an important part of the healing process for all of you.
- Children need to be told about what is going on in the family. At first, they may not show how upset they are nor understand what this will mean to them. Be direct and give a simple explanation when telling your children what is happening. Explain in words that are appropriate for their age to help them understand and begin to accept that their parents will be living apart.
- Children, especially young ones, often feel they have done something wrong and may believe the family problems resulted because they misbehaved. Children need to know that their parents' separation was not their fault and that neither parent is rejecting or abandoning them.
- It is very important that the children respect both of their parents. It may be difficult to avoid criticizing the other parent, but maintaining respect is necessary for the child's healthy development.
- Your children need both of you. Do not force them to take sides. This encourages frustration, guilt and resentment.
- Recognize that the past is important to children. Allow them to share positive memories of when the family all lived together.
- Divorce or separation usually causes financial pressures on both parents. It is best to be truthful with the children about changed finances and ask them to co-operate in cutting down expenses, without blaming the other parent.
- Children need consistent rules and direction from each parent, regardless of the separation. The guilt parents sometimes feel about the separation may interfere with the disciplining of their children. For example, the ages and developmental stages of your children will affect how you manage the guidelines you set around behaviour, as well as decisions about time-sharing. Children need and want to know what is expected of them, and feel more secure when limits are set that they can understand. They are confused when parents permit behaviour that they know or sense is wrong. Parents must be prepared to say "no."
- Parents may also believe the children will be confused if the rules for the children are different in each of their homes. Generally, children can accept different rules as long as they are understood and upheld consistently.
Time with the other parent
- It is important for a child to have regular contact with each parent. Maintaining contact helps the child deal with confusion about what is happening, helps to decrease feelings of rejection, and lessens fears that he/she may never see the other parent (and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) again.
- Sometimes parents who do not have daily care of the children ask why they should continue to see them. There are several reasons why maintaining contact with both parents is very important for the children. For one thing, they worry about their other parent eating properly, having a place to sleep and being lonely.
- Time spent with your children should be as pleasant as possible for everyone. It is very important that parents avoid arguing with each other when the children are present.
- The parent living with the children must prepare them physically and emotionally to enjoy times with the other parent. Helping them get ready and letting them know you want them to have a good time can be difficult if there is conflict between you and your former partner, but it is an important way to allow the children to adjust positively.
- Often, the parent who does not have daily care is unsure how to spend quality time with the children. Going on outings together can make visits more fun, but the important thing is giving of yourself and continuing to be a part of the children's lives. Learn what children of various ages like to do. There are books, courses and organizations that can help. For information, call the number below.
- The question is frequently asked, "Should the father/mother take the children to the girlfriend's/boyfriend's house?" After a period of adjustment both of you will want to share other parts of your life that you value with your children. Likewise, your children may sometimes want to include their friends in the time you have together. Be cautious, however. These visits with new people must not be a substitute for spending time with your children. The children should not have to compete for your attention or feel that someone else is more important to you than they are.
- Children should spend as much time with each parent as is possible and practical. However, schedules should have some flexibility. If visits have to be re-scheduled, basic courtesy requires that you let the other parent know as soon as possible and that you also explain to the child fully and honestly why plans are being changed.
- Flexibility is necessary, but so is dependability. Your children need to know they can count on you to be there when you say you will. Predictability is always important in your relationship with your children, especially when you live apart.
- Do not use the children to check up on the other parent nor to carry angry messages back and forth. This will cause them to feel uncomfortable and fear that if they say or do things to please you they will be hurting their other parent.
- The children may have many questions after spending time with a parent, and both parents should agree and be consistent on ways to answer them.