Today my guest blog is written by Sarah England a passionate advocate of children’s voices in divorce and separation. Here she provides a useful insight into how we can think about children within the divorce process.
Sarah is passionate about supporting families through one of their most challenging times. Her view is that for the majority of separating families there is a better, less stressful and more cost effective way forward; that divorce is stressful enough and should not cost families their life savings. She is particularly passionate about co-mediation which is the preferred model of The Family Mediation Association and is rarely available outside her own service without an additional cost. Sarah is particularly passionate about child contact disputes being viewed through the eyes of the child and considering matters of child development and long term emotional well-being and not treating a child as an asset to be divided.
Sarah is the co-founder of Green Light Mediation which began in May 2012 and was a winner of Dacorum’s Den in 2013. Green Light Mediation was invited by MP Simon Hughes to be involved in the task force considering the future of mediation within the Family Law Reforms of 2014. The Business opened new premises in 2015.
The Kids Will Be Alright – Won’t They?
Family breakdown is a tough place for all concerned. For the adults there is often much pain and grief with emotions running high, and that is before subjects such as whether the family home needs to be sold or pensions should be subject to a sharing order are even considered. This love you thought would be forever suddenly isn’t. The kids will be alright – won’t they?
Family for most , is the cornerstone of our emotional security. The breakdown can affect our self-confidence and even evoke feelings of worthlessness or depression. Is it surprising therefore that young people’s emotional needs can get lost in the midst of this? They need security and parental support more than ever and their parents resources are running on empty at precisely the same time.Parents in “survival mode” may fight over assets and children can become another battle ground with one or both looking to “share” them out fairly; but they are not assets.
Children’s reactions to family breakdown can vary for a myriad of reasons, not least their age and understanding. The good news is that research shows that divorce doesn’t damage children/young people – it is conflict.
What can we do to try and get it right at this time for our children and young people?
Empathy – Empathy for your young person’s situation is key. If there is no physical or emotional harm involved children will usually want to have a relationship with both parents. Supporting that isn’t always easy if the other parent is hurting you. A helpful tip to remember is that you do love your child more than you dislike the behaviour of your ex partner. When the going feels tough at least you can console yourself with being the bigger person. Additionally, the more loving and healthy family relationships your child has, the better for their self-esteem and confidence, and that is something we all wish for our children isn’t it?
Author, psychologist, speaker and child of divorce Penelope Leach includes a number of direct quotes from children in her book about family breakdown. She kindly allows us to quote her work and they can really open our eyes.
Boy now aged 16
“I haven’t seen my dad since I was 13. For the longest time – like years-I went on being thrilled when he turned up and believing his excuses when he didn’t. My mum was really good about that. But then there was a birthday when he didn’t even send a card, then another birthday, and then I sort of realised he’d gone. I wish I knew where he’s gone because I really need to ask him what I did to make him just not care about me.”
It breaks your heart doesn’t it? Sadly, it happens and “loving it better” isn’t easy with this kind of pain. It is a tough place to support. If the other parent isn’t willing or able to prioritise a child who desperately needs their love and support it falls to you to be both. There may also be a time that your young person needs some additional support, some parents offer NLP, mindfulness or therapy to their young person. Aiming to encourage other relationships within the family of the gender of the missing parent can help, alternatively a god parent or close family friend whom you believe will be there for life. Pick good confidence building role models!
The Practical Stuff…
Empathy also relates to practical arrangements. Sometimes both parents are desperately trying to be fair to each other with all the very best intentions when it comes to children’s arrangements but they forget the young person:
Boy aged 10
“ All school sports things are on Saturday and now I’m in year 5 I’m in the teams. Football now, cricket in the summer. When they said about going to my dad at weekends I did try to say about it but they didn’t really take much notice. Dad said he’d drive me to school on Saturdays but we only did it once cause he said it was too far. I asked mum if I could just go to dad’s on Saturday afternoon after the matches are over but she said that wouldn’t be fair, as dad would only have me for one night. I think this way is unfair on me.”
The above quote really sums up how, despite our attempts to get it right we can accidentally get it wrong for our children. The tip here is to hear what is important to them and support their hobbies and social times. These things keep life “normal” and help us avoid accidently leaving our young people feeling powerless or frustrated.
Teenagers, to an even greater extent need the freedom to develop their own identities and socialise with their peers. Growing up can feel complicated enough without a challenging family situation. We all remember our intense, self-conscious teenage years so our tip is try not to make it feel any harder to fit in whether its making sure they can go to their best friends’ party, play football with the team or keep up at school.
It can be difficult for parents to remember that their young people’s weekends will be about more than just family time. Approval from peers is often an overriding aim at this point. However, teens need a secure and loving sense of family demonstrating a good moral compass and lots of unconditional love.
Fun times with their family members and extended family also build on that experience. The behaviour modelled is likely to be mirrored back, whether that is a generous spirit, kindness, selfishness, or a lack of consideration. The teenage version tends to be amplified though.
As parents we will never be perfect, whatever our relationship status but unconditional love, fair and consistent boundaries and empathy with a few practical tips can get our young people and ourselves through. Did you know that the victor in the recent Bear Grylls celebrity challenge was from a single parent background. She had more tenacity, resourcefulness and inner strength than all the rest. Your young person can do better than survive he or she can thrive.
If you are struggling with child contact or co-parenting www.greenlightmediation.co.uk offer family mediation/parenting plan work and will be producing their first parenting to protect from divorce course so please email to express an interest email@example.com
Additionally, if your young person is struggling there is lots of great support out there including www.thetherapyplace.co.uk
Please call Green Light Mediation on 01442 500059 for more details.