There is no more important issue when a relationship breaks down than its impact on the children of the family. If you’re separating after a number of years, and a child is involved, then you know it’s your absolute responsibility to do the very best you can for that child.
But in the whirlwind that break-up often creates, and with all the emotional and practical challenges facing you, it’s very easy to lose sight of what ‘the very best’ actually means let alone be able to do it.
The sad reality is that sometimes the long-term welfare of a child of separation is not catered for as carefully or as effectively as it might be. Sometimes the pain or complexity of what we're dealing with, overwhelms our ability to make wise choices. Sometimes we can be so carried away in the flow of our own lives that we struggle to even remember the burden that has fallen to our children.
In the middle of the turmoil of break-up, the biggest challenge often confronting us is how to promote the needs of our children over and above our own feelings.
But as parents we must try.
As a reference point to help, I've identified 10 key issues that express the needs of children in the context of parental separation.
I've framed these here as 10 Requests, presented from the point of view of the child who is witnessing break-up in front of his/her eyes.
The Requests are drawn from direct professional and personal experience.
They are what every child would truly wish for from his or her separating parents, if s/he knew what s/he needed and how to express it.
The 10 Requests from the Children of Separation
Please remember that more than anything else you’re my role model. What you do is far, far more important than what you say in any one moment. So please model the behaviours, values, beliefs and expressions that you want me to adopt. Be the person you want me to admire. Don’t just tell me what to do or say; show me through your behaviours.
Please don’t tell me how bad or wrong either of you are. You’re both inside me in a way, so whatever you say to me about each other is like you’re saying it about me. Please try to be at least courteous with each other, whatever’s happened.
Please tell me the truth. Don’t lie to me and don’t hide stuff from me. If I don’t find out now, I will do one day. Be courageous with me as well as for me. I don’t need every gory detail, in fact I won’t benefit from knowing everything – some things should stay among you adults! The basic truths are enough.
Please respect me enough to show me how you feel. It’s ok to be unhappy around me. Don’t get me wrong, it hurts to see you unhappy, I don’t like it, but I need to know you’re being honest with me. In fact, I’ll probably sense it anyway, so if you don’t express it to me I might just think you’re modelling repression!
Please help me understand and express my feelings. I see more than you think. My intuition and instincts are fine thank you! Evolving, but fine. Where I struggle a bit is in making sense of it all in my brain – and therefore in my words and actions. Being silent or distracted is easier sometimes. Please, instead of being impatient with me, or not bothering, can you teach me how to express myself better?
Please reassure me that you love me. I really need some kind of stability, and that comes from YOU. I need to feel secure in your love for me. I need to know that you are still going to protect me and nurture me. Tell me you love me, with feeling. And tell me regularly, and especially tell me when I’m sad or playing up – don’t you know that I’m probably only playing up because I don’t know what else to do?
Please reassure me that it’s not my fault you’re breaking up. Sometimes I think that if I wasn’t around you two would stay together. I mean I seem to piss you off quite a lot, so maybe without me you might feel better than you do now? Please show me that’s not true.
Please don’t burden me with all your stuff all the time. I can’t fix it for you, I need to see you fix it for yourself. Let me be the son/daughter that I am. Be honest with me, yes, but don’t ask me for the answers to your problems.
Please do what you need to do to be content. I need to see you deal with all this stuff successfully. Find your way to be happy again and fulfilled and being the best you can be – that’s what I need. That way, I’ll understand that if I have to go through a break-up like this one day, I’m going to be OK in the end too.
Please look after yourself. You can’t look after me if you’re not looking after you first. Look after your mind, your body and your soul. You’ll be doing me the biggest favour if you do.
Every break-up is unique in its nature. But the needs of children are universal. Whatever your situation, and whatever the age, gender, personality or experience of the child or children, these 10 Requests will need answering.
(This is an extract is from my forthcoming book - provisional title ‘The Essential Healings for Separation and Divorce’- due to be published later this month.)