How understanding emotions can help with divorce or co-parenting

A blog drawn from our publication 'When Parents Separate:Getting it Right for the Children:A guide for parents'  by Krisztina Glausius and Leezah Hertzmann. In this extract we take an overview of the process of separating and explain precisely why a range of feelings stirred up make the task of co-parenting so challenging. 

The breakdown of a relationship can be an immensely upsetting event for both partners. Their children, who are already struggling with their own feelings of loss, worry and hurt, rarely remain unaffected by their parents’ distress.Feelings of anger about an ex-partner, and of hurt about their own circumstances, can be very powerful long after the actual divorce or separation and such overwhelming emotions can affect a parent’s ability to think about the children and their feelings.

There is now a wealth of accumulated research that suggests that what parents do after family break-up, including how they parent, handle their emotions, relate to each other and work together, is a key factor in helping children recover from the shock of their parents’ separation. Many parents are concerned about how parental separation impacts on their children and their future development and emotional health. There is no denying that children are likelyto be hurt and upset by the break-up of their parents’ relationship. But this is not the endof their story. Children are also highly resilient. It is not whether their parents are togetheror separated that matters most when looking after children’s emotional wellbeing. Instead,it is the quality of parent-child relationship and the conflict between parents (separated or together) that is vital. Children who are caught up in the conflict between their parents sometimes display anumber of worrying behaviours. They may become angry, volatile, difficult – or they maybecome ‘model children’, putting their childhood on hold to look after the needs of their distressed parents. Many parents believe that they are able to shield their children from not only the effect of arguments between mum and dad, but even from the very awareness of it. This can be difficult for parents to hear, but there is a strong chance that they are mistaken about this. In our experience children are acutely aware of the ‘emotional temperature’ between parents. They don’t have to witness a screaming row to understand that there is something really painful going on. They understand cold war – that is, a long-standing frostiness or silent hostility between parents – as well as bloody battles.

The question we are asking from parents coming to work with us sounds simple:

Can you put your children ahead of your own upset or angry feelings?

Can you do your best to ensure that your children come first and are not caught in the middle?

Parents understandably struggle and are vulnerable at a time of relationship loss but thisis exactly the time when your children need you more, not less. It may take you and your partner a year or two to renegotiate a new, post-separation relationship but it is hard forthe children to wait that long. We know that, sadly, children can be at risk when parents fail to manage their own painful feelings over the loss of the relationship. We also know that it is not easy. The feelings stirred up by separation can be so intense that even the most level-headed parents can becaught by surprise. Recognising this can be the first step in the often long process of building a new coparenting relationship with your former partner.

Our Divorce and Separation service can help.

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