Where do we go from here?
Keeping healthy relationships.
I have recently been coaching a lovely Mum over the telephone for a number of weeks now and we’ve been looking at how she gets a break, gets some adult company and keeps her own life moving forward as she gets used to life as a single parent.
Children can assess the temperature of our moods with alarming accuracy, no matter what their age. Often the child’s perception that “something is wrong” is quite often more accurate than we realise ourselves.
Retaining healthy relationships, wherever possible, will help to reduce the stress all round in the family, and in particular when dealing with the “ex.” Regardless of the quality of your relationship with your former partner, you are now responsible for bringing up your child jointly, but separately.
So grab a piece of paper and a coffee and ask yourself:
- How do you work through key issues with your ex partner
- What guidelines, do you both lay down and how consistent, are you both?
- Do you agree on bedtimes, pocket money, sweets, homework, computer time or when they get older, boyfriend/girlfriend time?
- What are the benefits, if you did?
- Are you ever tempted to buy favour with your child? What are the messages they receive from you doing this?
Positive Parent Top Tip
Remember, children need a consistent approach from both parents.
Children are very good at picking up vibes from their parents. They’re very sensitive to our moods. If we can explain to our children, why were feeling anxious it will help them to understand and they may not be so worried by our behaviour. For example,” I’m sorry, I am a bit tense today, as I’ve just had the phone bill in.”
It’s much easier for a child to handle something specific, rather than to just see you in tears or in tantrums! Also, some children always assume it is their fault, and it’s good for your children to know that they are not the problem.
- How do you speak about your ex in front of your child?
- What important message, are you sending to your child about their father or their mother?
- How do you think your child feels about seeing their parent criticised?
- Have you considered that your child might still miss their estranged mum or dad – regardless of how you feel?
- How do you cope with your feelings toward your ex?
All by myself.
It is easy to underestimate the complex tensions that accompany divorce-even a fairly amicable one. Your child may be angry and upset because one of his parents has left, but as you’re the only parent around for him to vent his feelings on he is likely to take it out on you. Your child may become sullen and awkward or loud and angry.
It’s very hard for you on top of everything else that you have to cope with.
However, try not to take it personally. Try to understand your child’s feelings of dislocation and try and take a positive view.
- How do you allow your child to express themselves, however negative the emotion?
- What ways do you allow your child to let go of hurt feelings and resentment?
- How do you handle the anger and accusations? Do you argue back? Leave it until she’s calm down, and in a more receptive mood? Talk it through rationally?
- What are the benefits, if you took a step back and distanced yourself from the emotion? Would you feel more in control?
- What are the long-term disadvantages to “slagging off” your ex partner. How might this damage your relationship with your child?
- Will it help if you didn’t see it as a competition?
Positive Parent Top Tip.
Forgiveness is the key to moving on.
However bitter you may feel toward your ex, however hard you may find it to forgive, think about the benefits of maintaining a degree of civility with them. You will not be able to control what your ex partner does or says but you can control your own actions. If your partner continues to use your children as pawns, your best move is to refuse to play chess!
The greatest temptation, particularly if your partner is behaving obnoxiously, is to return like with like.
But what are you teaching your children?
Guidelines for your children.
It can be a lonely and confusing place for children during this difficult time. Just like bereavement, healing is not linear. So it can take however long it takes!
Here are some Positive Parent Top Tips that have been drawn from the experience of mums and dads who have had broken relationships.
1. If at all possible, be positive about your ex partner. At the very least, try not to be negative. Tell your child that you both of you love him.
2. Don’t criticise your ex to your children-keep in mind that it’s their mum or dad you’re talking about. Remember, your child feels loyalty to both.
3. Leave photos of the missing parent around, use their name-it helps your child heal.
It’s important that your ex is still part of your child’s life. Be ready to talk naturally about the good things that happened. It will help your child move easily through change.
4. Encourage your child to keep in contact with the non-resident parent through e-mails or phone calls. Show respect by sending them a birthday card.
5. Try to encourage your child to see her mum or dad. Try to encourage the relationship, or at least keep the doors open for better things to come.
6. Don’t use your child as a messenger or a spy.
7. Discuss with your ex about Christmas, weekends, and who’s going to have who and when. And stick to the arrangement if at all possible. Children need stability in their lives.
8. Encourage your child to continue their relationship with their other parent. There will always be long-term issues to work out and face and the quicker that they do that the easier it will become.
9. Remember it’s important to keep your promises to your child. He may feel let down by one or both of his parents so only make promises to him that you can keep.
10. Keep on reassuring your child that the breakup is nothing to do with her-especially if your child continues to seem anxious about it. It’s important that your child doesn’t blame herself.
Another difficult area when relationships break down concerns the “in-laws.”
The only thing to suggest is that you do the right thing for your child. Even if it’s not what you would want to happen. Seeing and being in contact with the in-laws may be an unpleasant or painful experience for you, but they are still a very relevant part of your child’s family, their culture, and their heritage. It is healthy for your child to have a sense of family that includes all relatives.
Healthy relationships, including those with the ex, need to be worked out. Success doesn’t happen overnight, and often calls for much personal sacrifice and self-discipline. But it’s worth all the effort in order to provide a stable environment for your children so they can grow up to be happy, confident and well-balanced adults
Stay centre and grounded – remember you are doing your best and pat yourself on the back!
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About the author
Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.
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Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
T: + 44 1342 833355 M: 07740 622769
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