There can be times when a family can break up for various reasons. This often is a challenging and emotionally raw time for those who were involved in the relationship. This can be even more of a challenge when there are children involved in the relationship.
For us as parents and carers we often try to protect the children and young people from the hurt, which inadvertently means we don’t talk about the challenges in navigating it together.
We talk of children and young people being incredibly resilient and resourceful when it comes to adapting to new challenges yet we often try to avoid upsetting them by omitting details or trying to hide or mask our own true feelings, especially when the break up is one that has lots of pain.
One thing to remember when going forward is that every child and young person’s experience is different, with no one size fits all in how to support our young people, however, opening up to the idea of communication of feelings and struggles will give them the opening to express their own genuine feelings too.
Young people can experience an array of emotions when their parents split, this can go from grief, irritability, denial, protest to shame, guilt, pining, hostility and split loyalty.
Even in relationships where aggression, violence or heated arguing is a factor in the breakdown and our young people may be relieved that it has ended, it is important to know that while there is relief most can still experience the same array of feelings as grief and loss.
The organisation Young minds has some tips on how we can support our young people through divorce or separation.
- Try to place the young person’s feelings above the feelings of the adults. This can be challenging to do but it is always good to remember that they do not have the same experience or the same emotional response/maturity as you do.
- Try to where safe to maintain contact and communications between both parents and the young people.
- Young people can adapt better to loss when there is stability, being given honest information and when they are encouraged to ask questions. (Even the hard questions, when they are met with honesty, the young people can feel secure and trust that relationship).
- Where possible have a conversation with the young people to discuss the separation, with as straightforward an explanation as possible.
- Try to shield them from the overt conflict between the parents, it can be frightening when emotions overspill into aggression.
- Listen to your children’s concerns, accept their emotions as their truth of the situation, allow yourself to express your own sorrow at their feelings of loss and grief.
- Try to see from their perspective, they want their parents to be happy, they will internalise and wonder what they did wrong for the parents to be unhappy. they will miss the absent parent. Its important to talk and let them know they have done nothing wrong in this situation (from both parents if possible, this saves them feeling like they are splitting their loyalty or attachment to the other parent, as this fosters feelings of guilt and shame towards the other parent).
- Provide constant reassurance that they can express their true feelings to both. Explain that they are not responsible for what happens in an adult relationship.
- When they express anger, frustration and pushing of boundaries, meet them with compassion and understanding that they are trying to communicate with you. Create chances to talk through what is safe and ok when expressing anger and frustration.
- Try not to have your child feel like they need to take sides. This can be a challenge if there is domestic violence and more involved however open and honest communication is key.
- Where possible, try to maintain regular contact not only with the other parent but with other familial relationships, keeping their emotional support network as large as it was before the breakdown.
- Last but not least, find good support for yourself. It’s hard trying to be the emotional support for our young people when we are emotional wrought.
The tips above are general and as we know not all plain sailing when there are other factors involved in the separation. Whilst not all of the tips may be helpful in your situation, it’s important to recognise that families are resourceful and all have their own ways of navigating such challenges.
Communication and authenticity are the fundamental components of being able to support our young people through a relationship breakdown and help them navigate it in an emotionally healthy manner.
One of the expressions we use a lot is ‘get curious’ when it comes to understanding thoughts, beliefs and behaviours of any individual. So, let’s explore that further in the context of supporting our young people through relationship breakdowns .
As with most young people there are usually behaviours that can trigger frustration, mis-communication and often upset. Being parent or carer is a tough job! We try our best to guide our young people, protect them and keep them safe because we love them.
There is no doubt that both parents or carers simultaneously feel love yet feel frustration when it comes to managing co-parenting, but how often do we communicate these frustrations when we are calm? How often do we try to just act like the separation isn’t happening?
When they show you their feelings , are you trying to consider it from their perspective and not clouding it with your own emotional turmoil?
Are you being fair on the other parent from the children’s perspective? when they talk of the other parent, are we checking in with ourselves first before responding.
What comes up for you now having considered these points and questions? Has it shifted your perspective in any way?
Equally, it can certainly be the case that the behaviour is intentional in order to gain favour with one parent or to upset the other.
Again, if we press pause and get curious what could be behind those deliberate behaviours there can be a variety of reasons.
Have you joined the Connected Families program yet? If not, join here www.potentialin.me/families-online
Come along and join us at our next workshop Navigating Relationship Breakdowns https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/parentscarers-of-teenstweens-helping-yp-navigate-relationship-breakdowns-tickets-159108536917