Divorced parents - The do's and don'ts | Counselling in Melbourne

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Divorced parents – The do’s and don’ts

Divorce is always a dreaded outcome for any married couple. However, things get tougher and messier when children are involved.

When you’re a parent who has decided to part ways with your partner, it can be heart-wrenching to see confused children make sense of the situation and find meaning to “why” and “what’s going to happen to me”.

Divorce or separation can be a very traumatising event for children regardless of their age and will need your help (more than ever before) to navigate through the rough often emotional times.

Divorce or separation is an unpleasant situation and can be very upsetting but keep the lines of communication open with your partner and your children.

If uncertainty is overwhelming you and you’re finding yourself unsure about how to create a sense of stability for your children when you yourself feel like you are being tested by life, go back to the basics.

Helpful relationship tips to think about:

Here are a few helpful tips to help you negotiate a parting of the ways and to take care of your children:

The Do’s

  • Try to remain a united front for meeting your child’s needs regardless of the resentment you might be feeling for your partner; If your child has an important event in school, make sure you both are there to cheer him or her.
  • Encourage your child to communicate or express their emotions. A release of emotions can create a sense of normalcy, help ease out stress, and also reassures your child that the world has not fallen apart.
  • When your child is unable to fall asleep in the new house, allow them to express how sad they feel about moving out or just how much they miss their dad’s home.
  • Consistent rules and consequences are so important to establish. No matter what is happening at the “other house” or whatever feelings the child is having. Any child still has to be responsible for his or her behaviour.
  • Stay calm. If you are already separated and plan to exchange children, sometimes it can feel like you’re walking into a minefield – “not knowing if, when or what may trigger a verbal argument”. It’s wise for both parents to agree on a ‘child’ exchange plan to make the transition smoother from one parent to the other.
    • The establishment of limits and accountability for actions will help with parenting, which includes when you need outside support.
    • In today’s environment by having a culture of accountability and a reliable structure within the family during tough times will create a sense of sensibility and normality for everyone concerned.

Children who are experiencing feelings of grief and loss after a divorce and can begin to display unruly out of control behaviours. If you’re experiencing and struggling to cope with a child’s poor behaviour – relationship counselling or grief counselling services are available and can be very helpful to consider.

The Don’ts

  • Never speak badly or negatively about your partner in front of anyone, especially when your children are around. This will help them still see the two of you as a team and as authority figures. It also saves children from confusion about whom to follow and prevents them from displaying aggressive behaviour.
  • While sometimes we think our children are “adultified”, try to resist having a serious or a too deep a conversation with them about your own emotions surrounding the divorce or separation. Remember they’re still ‘little’ people, without the life experiences of an adult and really shouldn’t be exposed to intense emotions.
  • Children can become a source of negative comments about what’s happening in ‘the other house’, which may stoke your flame of anger and resentment. It’s very important for you to take a deep breath and don’t jump to any conclusions.
  • Using your child to convey messages as doing so places your child in a terrible no-win situation. Both of you are adults, as my Mother used to say, “act your age, not your shoe size”.
    • Communication is vital for co-parenting and for your child’s development. If divorced or separated parents can get on the same page regarding your child’s welfare, all parties will experience less destructive emotions.
    • Establishing harmonious relations will be a win-win for everyone.
  • Don’t convert any guilt feelings you may be experiencing into overindulgence by giving in or granting wishes to children without limits.
    • Overindulgence can cause longer-term psychological issues with children, as children can become self-centred or may lack empathy towards other children.
    • While divorce is a painful experience, parents should agree to establish structures for co-parenting and learn to communicate with each other if a parent is struggling with the demand of having unrealistic expectations stacked on them by a child.
    • Try to display or keep a face of neutrality and don’t try to continually cheer them up and overindulge them with treats. Over time your child could learn to resent and distrust you.

When is relationship counseling needed?

Relationship counselling should be considered but can be a very tricky issue. Some relationship counsellors say counselling should not include both parents because it is artificial, and can cause children to believe or to fantasise that their parents will get back together.

Alternatively, there are relationship counsellors who believe counselling sessions should be flexible enough to involve everyone in various combinations, but not to involve children unless absolutely necessary.

Divorcing parents carry an inherent risk of causing emotional distress for children. The more adept adults can finalise the divorce process and begin to take responsibility for being parents, which ideally would include maintaining a civil relationship with their ex-wife/husband, the better the chances are the children will be able to adjust to the new reality of their lives.

Divorce or separation will create many strong and possible even erratic emotions such as fear, anger, resentment, grief anxiety and even depression. It’s extremely important if you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed to seek help.

Relationship Counselling

Counselling in Melbourne relationship psychologists and counsellors can quickly understand the dynamics of your relationships involving your ex-partner and children and will work with you to get you back on track through the use of new coping skills.

Please note that the information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not substitute professional medical or mental health advice. If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or needs assistance, please reach out to a mental health professional or helpline in your country or state.

About the editor, Amelia Cambrell

My name is Amelia and I'm a Senior Psychologist at Counselling in Melbourne. I have over 18-years of experience in the mental health space. I am very driven to get the best outcomes for my clients which can be long lasting by using a range of modalities such as CBT. There is nothing more satisfying than helping adolescents, adults and couples who are feeling confused, frustrated, stuck or overwhelmed, to find more clarity, confidence and happiness in their lives.

Find out more about Amelia Cambrell

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