When two people marry they generally believe that it is forever. When we have children we don’t look into the future and ask ourselves “What happens if our marriage doesn’t work?”
Many times when going through a marriage breakdown people can be entirely too wrapped up in their own anguish and distress. They tend to forget that whilst a marriage breakdown and separation from a spouse is hard on them, it is far worse for the children involved.
Children can exhibit many behaviours in an attempt to cope with the stress and anxiety of seeing ‘mummy and daddy’ battling through a very difficult time, or worse still, battling each other.
Children often don’t see a relationship breakdown coming and they generally experience some of the same feelings as their parent, namely grief, shock, confusion and insecurity.
On a positive note, it can be far less harmful for a child to go through the breakdown of a relationship than to live in an unhappy family environment with tension and fighting going on in the home.
Children don’t always talk about their feelings as they find it difficult to express their emotions. Post-separation, some children may become withdrawn and avoid talking about the separation or the absent parent. Others may become clingy, feeling that they have lost the departing parent and want to make sure they don’t lose the remaining parent. Some younger children may even regress in their behaviour by starting ‘baby talk’ or going backwards with toilet training. Others may have nightmares or can become rebellious, difficult to handle or aggressive.
What happens to children after separation:-
Birth – 2 years
- May develop strong emotional and physical dependence on the resident parent;
- May fret for the absent parent;
- May experience separation anxiety.
2.5 – 5 years
- Can experience shock or depression;
- May exhibit changes in sleeping habits, toilet habits or deteriorated language skills;
- Can become sensitive to criticism of either parent and may perceive this as criticism of themselves.
5 – 8 years
- Will often intensely wish to restore the parents’ relationship and may say and do things hoping it will get mum and dad back together;
- May want to stay at home to be near the parent they spend most of their time with, but may also feel reluctant to leave the other parent at the end of a visit;
- May have trouble expressing emotions and will demonstrate emotions through their behaviour.
8 – 12 years
- May experience a conflict of loyalty between each parent;
- If conflict is high, may try to cope by rejecting one parent or trying to keep both happy by saying negative things about one parent to the other.
What effect does conflict have on children?
Continued disagreement between separated parents makes life very difficult for children. Research shows that this is a critical factor affecting children’s adjustment after separation.
It is difficult for children to enjoy spending time with both parents when they continue fighting, particularly if parents put the children in the middle.
Eventually if the fighting continues, this can cause anxiety and distress before and after staying with or visiting the other parent or they may start having problems at school.
A child’s development can be seriously hampered by exposure to hostility and violence. Overhearing or witnessing conflict is harmful and places children at risk of long term emotional and behavioural problems.
What you can do to help your children:-
- Let go of the past. You have decided to separate from your partner, accept it and move on with your life;
- Make sure you tell your children that you love them often. Why not tell them the other parent loves them too?
- DO NOT criticise the other parent in front of the children;
- Be positive about the other parent;
- Make sure your children know that it is good for them to have a positive relationship with the other parent;
- Let your children know that separating is upsetting but that you are handling it and things will “get better”;
- Talk to your child’s teachers;
- Avoid conflict in front of your children;
- Avoid passing messages of any kind through your children;
- Turn to other adults for support and not your children;
- Reassure your children that they are not to blame for your separation;
- Give your children the opportunity to express their feelings about the other parent and the separation, even if those feelings aren’t the same as yours.
Children have a right to love and be loved by both parents, enjoy time with both parents without excessive demands being placed on them, feel proud and respect their parents, be listened to by both parents regarding what they need, and see their parents behave towards each other in a courteous and respectful way.
Always remember that children eventually become adults who have grown up watching the way their parents behave.
If you are going through a relationship breakdown, Brazel Moore Lawyers can provide you with discreet, sensitive support and advice to help you get through this tough time and move on with your life. Call Kim Lawson now on (02) 4324 7699.