When a relationship breaks down, not only is it difficult for the parents, it is also very difficult for the children. The children’s family, and therefore their core stability, is shaken. Parents unlike their children are often able to rationalise and prepare for the end of a relationship. On rare occasions the relationship may even be ended by agreement between the adults. This will not, however, have been the case for a child or children. Children (in all but very exceptional cases) love and need a relationship with both their parents.
Children’s needs are sometimes unfortunately overlooked or insufficiently prioritised in the midst of a relationship breakdown. It is important to be honest with children about what is happening and what they can expect in the future. Trying to pretend that separation is not happening will not help the children to come to terms with their parents’ breakdown. In contrast, children may become distrustful if they feel their parents are not being honest with them.
By the time parents reach the point of relationship breakdown, they may have been arguing for months. Whilst most parents try to shield the children from arguments, children are often more sensitive to acrimony than we realise. They may therefore have been upset for some time, sensing or witnessing the two people they most love in the world (their “rocks”) fighting only then to have to deal with being separated from one of their parents for (in their minds) a long time when they have been used to seeing them every day.
Children often have mixed emotions when their parents separate, ranging from insecurity, anger, confusion or guilt. Children should be reassured that both parents still love them, that they will be able to have a continuing relationship with both parents and that the separation is not their fault.
When parents are separating they will often be contending with their own difficult emotions. They themselves sometimes feel angry, bitter and resentful to their former partner. On occasions it is possible, when in the height of these emotions, to overlook the feelings of their children.
The vast majority of parents love their children unconditionally and would not intentionally set out to harm them. If parents do want to ensure they act in the best interests of their children in a relationship breakdown, they should recognise the children’s right to a relationship with both of their parents.
A great deal of research has been carried out on the issue of contact between children and their absent parent. This research has consistently found that effective, good contact took place when the separated parents were able to communicate effectively and work together on issues surrounding the children and their upbringing.
It is important to remember, therefore, that even if you detest your former partner, if it is appropriate, and you are able to (safely) do so, try and maintain at least a civil relationship with your ex. Your children will thank you in the long run and you are likely to save a lot of legal fees!