Mark Stalker: Recently Separated with Kids? What Next?

Continuing our series of blogs for Child Contact Centre Awareness Week (22-26 April), Mark Stalker tackles the difficult subject of managing recent separation.

Image by slightly everything from Flickr Creative Commons

If you’ve recently separated from your partner and have children then you don’t need me to tell you how stressful the whole situation can be. It’s a time which can be really painful and chaotic for families and children can often witness inappropriate or impulsive behaviour from one or both of their parents. Increased fighting, conflict and badmouthing by parents are all too common and it is a stage which, if steps are not taken, can last anything from a few months to a few years.

So how do you avoid that seemingly inevitable conflict? It does often feel impossible and unfortunately, there is no simple answer. There are however some top tips that can help you make your way through the minefield of early post-separation life:-

  • Look after yourself. You are a parent and your main concern will undoubtedly be for your children but you are also a human being and separation often leads to excessive anger and/or depression. Recognise that you are suffering and find healthy ways to deal with these feelings. Speak to a friend, family member or a professional and don’t let the feelings eat away at you. Not only will you feel better but in doing so, but you will also teach your children some valuable life lessons about how to cope.
  • Respond to situations, don’t simply react to them. It is likely you will hear things from your ex-partner or from your children which might upset you. Don’t simply react to these things. Take the time to digest them and then find a way to respond to them which doesn’t add fuel to the situation.
  • Avoid drawing your children into ‘adult’ issues. After separation finances and legal matters often come to the fore, both of which can be incredibly stressful for parents. Children need to continue to be children and they don’t need to be told about money worries or court proceedings unless it is absolutely necessary. These are issues for you as adults alone.
  • Don’t see a lawyer as the first person you call after separation. The law can be very helpful in dealing with the financial aspects of a separation but in relation to the emotional issues surrounding children it is not the best forum to help and lengthy involvement in the legal process can divide parents even more. Consider alternatives such as family mediation for a more constructive and family-friendly way of resolving issues.
  • Focus on the needs of your children not on your ex-partner. Whilst you will be hurting a lot after the initial separation and it is natural to feel some hostility towards your ex, your children are likely to be far more scared, confused and upset than they actually indicate to you. They need both of you to be focused on helping them to cope and not on hurting one another.

These are just a few top tips for anyone in the early stages of a separation and by no means cover everything. If you need further advice then you can find help, advice and the number of your local Relationships Scotland service on the Relationships Scotland website.

 Mark Stalker is currently Service Manager at RS F.M. South Lanarkshire and is also a former solicitor. He is a registered family mediator and currently chairs the RS Child Contact Centre Committee as well as sitting on the National Board of Relationships Scotland.

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