In this article, we continue with the ten useful tips for parents for helping their children to adapt to life after their parents have separated.
As a reminder the first five tips were:
The next tips are:
This may seem unnecessary but in some cases it is very helpful, particularly if there has been any history of ‘misunderstandings’, for example in relation to times and/or dates. An agreement can record such matters as arrangements for children to travel between the homes of each parent, holidays, Christmas and birthdays, school parents’ evenings, medical appointments and many other aspects of daily life involving the children.
Some parents go further than this and find it helpful to have a written parenting plan. This can set out not only the practical arrangements but also their joint plans for the way in which the children are to be brought up. Such matters might include the type of school the parents would like the children to attend, further education, whether there is agreement about medical treatment, religious instruction, discipline, manners, pocket money and in teenage years, an allowance and many other issues of principle reflecting the agreed parenting style.
Having agreed the practical arrangements, such as the time to be spent by the children with each parent, whether that be a day or part of it, a weekend, or longer periods, stick to them. Do not change them without consultation and agreement. Be on time.
Do not take the children away for any length of time, be it for a holiday or some other reason, without telling the other parent what is happening and for how long.
Having emphasised the importance of sticking to previously made agreements, as in any part of life, it is important to maintain flexibility. People can fall ill, have a crisis at work or domestically, as well as other every-day life interruptions. If something unforeseen happens and the arrangements for the children have to change, make sure that the other parent is told as soon as possible (that other parent may have to change their arrangements as well).
However difficult, show generosity, kindness and sensitivity, and demonstrate a willingness to be flexible and accommodate towards the other parent. A display of fairness and generosity towards the other parent will be of enormous benefit to the children.
Separation can be very difficult, particularly so when one party feels aggrieved and hostile towards the other. However, evidence shows that when a parent is constantly hostile and unable to resist regular displays of anger and frustration or even negative or sly remarks, this has a damaging effect on children. They are much more likely, at first, to become partisan and defensive towards the angry parent, sometimes developing similar habits themselves. The sadness is that such behaviour by a parent can be counterproductive as it can lead a child eventually to feelings of rejection and alienation towards that parent.
Children do not always speak their mind: often they cannot put into words how they feel. For example, ‘I miss Dad’ does not necessarily mean that the child wants to spend more time with him (although it might). It might mean, ‘I want Dad to talk to me/read me a story/ sit with me and watch TV, like he used to do.
Remember the wise words of ‘Listen to the Children’ by Stephen Sondheim:
Careful the things you say
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do;
Children will see and learn.
Children may not obey, but children will listen.
Children will look to you for which way to turn;
To learn what to be.
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen.