Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Mums and Dads who come to family mediation are usually asked what they most want for their children. Their first answer is almost always the same: ‘I want my children to be happy’.
So how do separated parents manage this?
Here are some suggestions:
Listening and validating feelings:
Active listening – and I mean really listen – don’t interrupt your child or correct them. Let them know that you are hearing what they are saying – perhaps summarising back to them what they have told you.
Try to understand what they are feeling – and then encourage them to talk about their feelings – perhaps using a book like ‘The Great Big Book of Feelings’ by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith. Trying to jolly children out of sad or negative feelings makes them feel that they must be stupid to have those feelings. Let them know that their feelings are acceptable – even when their behaviour isn’t.
“Problem solving and action orientation is absolutely necessary in life and in parenting. However, first a child needs to feel that he or she is not alone.We need to feel understood and supported. Then we are more likely to be able to turn toward action.” [John Gottman]
The other parent – your ex-
Avoid badmouthing the other parent – however rotten a husband or wife, they are still [and always will be] their Dad or Mum. Children think of themselves as being ‘a bit Mum and a bit Dad’ so, if they think Mum or Dad isn’t nice, they will think that they are nasty too.
Instead, try to be positive about the other parent when the children are around. Having a ‘rant’ may help get things off your chest when talking with friends however, be careful of who is in earshot, it may well be your little ones.
Try to maintain good communication with your ex [link to separate post] – Fegans video perhaps? Fegans is a charity that give support to separated parents and offer guidance on how to work together for the benefit of the children.
Underpromise and overdeliver – don’t make promises to children unless you are certain you can deliver on them
Keeping them safe
Take steps to keep your children safe – this may mean not letting them go into an unsafe situation – but it might also mean taking steps to help your ex create a safe situation for your children.
Read the best book on the market for separated parents – ‘Parenting Apart’ by Christina McGhee (UK Edition) – but asking yourself: ‘What can I learn about what I should be doing?’ rather than thinking ‘Their Mum/Dad needs to read this!’
Another good book (not specifically related to separation, but to parenting generally) is ‘Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child’ by John Gottman and Joan Declaire.
I often tell parents that the children who turn out happiest are likely to be those whose parents are committed to supporting their children’s relationship with the other parent. That’s not easy – but it’s worth it.
See our Emotional Support for Children page for more help and guidance.