Everyone knows that separating when you have children is tough. Who tells them, how do you tell them? Is there a better time to tell them, in the morning, in the evening, during the school holidays?
Do children react differently at different ages?
You could argue that a younger child might handle separation and divorce better, as they are able to adapt quicker to the new situation.
But how does separation affect older children?
This is a tough question to answer, because every child is different.
Teenagers, however, are going through immense change in their own lives. Their bodies are changing and their brains are developing. Emotions are all over the place. School has become more intense, with important exams looming, GCSEs or A Levels. The last thing a teenager needs is for the one stability in their life, their parents’ relationship, to fall apart.
Teenagers are more on the ball than young children in terms of seeing through a situation. If one parent has embarked on an affair, for example, a teenager may well have picked up the undercurrents already.
This acuity does work in a positive way, too. Teenagers may have been aware for some time of the cracks in their parents’ relationship. So a discussion about separation might come as no surprise. The teenage daughter of one friend had actively been looking up houses to buy for her mum, some months before the subject was raised!
If you are the parent of teenagers, what do you need to think about if you are considering separation?
Do you stay together for the sake of the children, their emotional stability and their education – maintaining the family structure for security. Or do you believe it will be better for everyone concerned, in the long run, if you and your partner separate.
There’s no easy answer to that, of course. At the end of the day a sterile atmosphere with estranged parents trying to rub along can be as difficult as the shock of a separation. If there’s another person involved, the teenagers may find themselves keeping secrets to protect their mother or father.
If you do decide to separate, the absolute key is to try to keep clear of the ‘blame’ culture. As hard as this is, if your children are the most important thing in your life, it will make sense. Don’t ask a child to choose which parent they love the most – they won’t be able to.
Stay amicable, if at all possible. Unless there are very good reasons, don’t make it difficult for the other parent to have access to their child, it will backfire on you.
As carefully as you handle it, you may have to bear the brunt of anger, tears, criticism, coldness. Even in current society, the image of a happy, ‘normal’ family unit remains a strong one, although this is gradually changing.
It’s important that you don’t have a tantrum yourself if the teens kick up. Remember that you are the grown up here. This might be a time to keep your own tears for private, or for times when you are with your close friends. The adult needs to be strong and offer stability, even it is thrown back in their face.
No one is kidding you that this will be easy. But teenagers are young adults. They can adapt and they will, at some point, be able to understand that you are allowed to have your own happiness.
If you are considering separating and you need advice on any aspect, The Family Law Company offers a free initial half hour appointment. Call 01392 421777.