The loss of a relationship can feel like an utter disaster. Divorce comes with many challenging feelings for the parent, including anger, fear, grief, uncertainty and loss. Those feelings can overwhelm and inadvertently skew judgment about what to tell children, particularly in the heat of the moment, and it can even be frightening for the child to see the parent experiencing such extreme emotions.
If you are thinking about separating or about divorce, do keep the children in mind, and consider the following before taking action:
1. When informing your partner of your intentions, do so privately, and when the children are not at home.
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2. If you are in an abusive relationship, discuss safety needs first with a counsellor experienced in developing safety plans.
3. Choose a time of day and place that allows time and space for your partner to adjust to the information before having contact with the child.
4. Consider your partner’s support system, and whether a support person can be available to your partner before the child returns.
5. Discuss concern for the impact of the situation on the child and what can be done to manage the impact on the child for the moment – and whether the child even needs to know yet.
6. Realize deeper discussions will take place later about determining the division of assets, financial planning and parenting planning after the initial shock has subsided.
7. Offer and be available for counselling to facilitate further discussion and planning.
8. Keep all communication open between you and your partner to avoid undue pressure or responsibility being placed on your children to manage adult issues. Use whatever supports necessary to manage your communication and even if provoked, keep your communication civil and respectful.
9. Be mindful that interpersonal problems don’t go away when separating, and may in fact intensify. As such, do consider personal counselling or separation/divorce coaching for yourself to learn how to manage during this stressful time.
10. Consult with a family law lawyer to at least be informed about your rights and obligations.
Although the above guidance is provided, keep in mind that people’s adjustment to change can vary. To add, the decision to separate/divorce may not be mutual. Allow time and flexibility for adjustment. This may include accommodating to a slower or faster pace to meet the needs of the other parent. There more the parents can accommodate to each other’s needs, the less stress the children will have to experience.