Family break up

Family break ups are fairly common, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens to your own family. It’s important to reinforce to your kids that you’re still the same loving, supportive parents and that the breakdown of your relationship has nothing to do with them. You’ll also need to negotiate a new kind of relationship – one in which you are no longer partners, but still great parents.    

How will the kids react?

Separation can affect families in lots of different ways. Some kids are more able to talk about their feelings, but most, particularly younger children, will show how they feel through their behaviour. Older kids might let you know that they feel angry, powerless, and out of control and mourn the loss of the family unit. Younger children who have previously been confident and calm may seem anxious and want to stay close to parents or guardians. Some kids may get angry or get into fights more often than usual, while others try to be really good and please the adults close to them.

If one parent or guardian has moved out, it’s pretty common for kids to feel anxious that the other adult may leave too. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a sense of stability and reassure kids that regardless of what’s happening between the adults in the family, you’ll be there for them unconditionally.

Supporting yourself

Even in the most amicable of separations, feelings of grief, loss and lack of stability can knock you around emotionally. It’s really important for you to get support from friends, family or health professionals.

Try to take the time to connect with your friends and family and give yourself time to adjust to things being different. Don’t be surprised if the demands of parenting seem much more difficult when you are under stress. Make allowances for yourself and develop strategies to help you cope.

Supporting your kids

  • Give your kids time to adjust to the change – feelings of loss and grief take time to process.
  • Make sure they understand why you have separated – without blaming yourself or your ex-partner.
  • Encourage your kids to talk to you about their feelings. Listen and address their questions and concerns. If you can’t talk about what happened without feeling overwhelmed, that’s OK – ask another trusted adult to talk to them.
  • Keep their routine as normal as possible and explain any changes that will affect them – make sure they know where they’ll live, where they will go to school and what will happen in school holidays.
  • Keep disagreements between you and your former partner separate from the rest of the family.
  • If your kids are struggling with the situation, talking about things with a health professional can help.
  • Most importantly, remember that it’s in your children’s best interests to maintain their relationship with their other parent or guardian. Whatever’s happening between the adults of the family, you both need to respect each other’s individual relationship with your kids. Avoid bad-mouthing your former partner, and try and be flexible in dealing with co-parenting arrangements and logistics.

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