January 17, 2014

Helping children cope with your separation

Ruth Sutherland, Chief Executive, Relate

Last week was a busy one for the UK’s leading relationship support organisation, Relate. Whether or not the first working Monday of January should really be called ‘divorce day’, we consistently see a sharp spike in calls to our helpline number in January, and this year was no exception – calls increased by 53% on the first Monday of January 2014 compared with the first Monday of December 2013, with appointment bookings increasing by 86%. In light of this, we have launched our new ‘Being Parents Apart’ campaign to raise awareness of the range of support services we offer parents and families who are going through divorce or separation.

Deciding to separate is never easy, but for some couples, it can be the best thing to do. What can make a real difference is how parents manage the separation process so that any negative impact on children is kept to a minimum. With 52% of separated parents we asked saying that their separation had a negative impact on their children, it’s clear that finding ways of minimising the impact of relationship breakdown on families is crucial.

In order to weather the separation storm, we recommend these five pointers:

  1. Help children to accept the pain. It’s important to be optimistic and hopeful when you talk to your children about separation, but just telling them that everything will be fine could leave them unable to share the painful emotions they’re feeling.
  2. Be prepared for practical and emotional changes. As parents, you’ll need to work on communicating with each other from the outset so that your children aren’t stuck in the middle of these issues.
  3. How you manage leaving day can make a difference. Try and lessen the practical and emotional impact by preparing everyone in advance and being clear about what’s going to happen.
  4. Establish new routines. Children cope best with divorce when they have regular contact with both parents. Developing a routine is important, but try and be flexible too as the new arrangements take shape.
  5. Let them know it’s ok to enjoy seeing your ex. Even if you’re seething inside, keep a smile on your face when your ex comes to the door. Your children must know that it’s fine for them to leave you and enjoy their time with their other parent.

You can find out more about resources and Relate’s support services for separating parents at www.relate.org.uk/separation or @relate_charity