FOCUS Your marriage or relationship has ended, but your family has not, so doing what is best for your children becomes your priority.
Reaching the decision to separate or divorce is rarely an easy one. Add children to the mix and it becomes even more complicated.
Many parents worry how separation or divorce will affect their children in the long run. They worry about emotional scars or fall out for their children’s future. Part and parcel of parenting is this feeling of wanting to protect your children from hurt, so doing anything that seems to go against this can be extremely difficult. Splitting up, even when it is clearly the right decision, can still feel like the opposite of protecting your children. However, there are ways to protect and help your children through the changes that separation brings. One very important way is to look at how you co-parent.
The key to co-parenting is to focus on your children. But this can be very difficult when lots of your own emotions, such as anger, resentment, or hurt, might have to take a back seat for their sake. Setting aside such strong feelings may be the hardest part of learning to cooperate with your ex, but it’s also one of the most vital aspects of co-parenting.
Amicable (enough) co-parenting with your ex can give your children stability and help them develop close relationships with both parents. Putting aside relationship issues to facilitate co-parenting can be fraught with stress. What if the other parent doesn’t appear to be making the same effort to co-parent as you? Let it go and focus on your part. Co-parent as best you can, and half the battle already done. This might be all that is possible. Remember, it is better for your children to have at least half positive co-parenting than none at all.
It can be helpful to start thinking of your relationship with your ex as a completely new one, one that is entirely about the wellbeing of your children, and not about either of you. Your marriage or relationship has ended, but your family has not, so doing what is best for your children becomes your priority.
It’s so important that you get your feelings out somewhere else. Try to not vent to your child, especially about the other parent. Find other ways to get negative feelings off your chest. Talking to a friend or counsellor, exercise, breaks away from family, short courses or support groups can all be healthy outlets for letting off steam.
Positive co-parents manage the frustration they feel, outside of any communication with their ex. Notice that I don’t mean that co-parents have no frustrating moments. All co-parents will have difficult, overwhelming moments. But positive co-parents aim to handle it before communicating with the other parent or their children. Don’t let frustration fuel your communication.
Through positive co-parenting, your children will be able to see that they are more important than the conflict that ended the marriage, and they will understand that your love for them will continue despite the changes.
For more information, visit www.barnardos.ie.
> Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie, or at firstname.lastname@example.org or 085 1372528.