The statistics are staggering. One quarter of children in the UK will be involved in their parent’s divorce during their childhood. Each year that involves between 80,000 and 150,000 children (aged under 16). One in four children affected by parental divorce is under five. (ONS/Social Trends).
The affect on children caught up in family relationship breakdown can be equally staggering. Children of divorce have been found to experience more depression, are more likely to be referred for psychological support, have more learning difficulties and problems getting along with peers, become sexually active earlier and produce more children outside marriage.
During my years of practice as a family and divorce solicitor in Bath, I have seen many mothers and fathers whose greatest concern was how a divorce would affect their children and who wanted direction on how to minimise that affect. What I have learnt is that it is the conflict between parents during and after divorce that does children the most harm.
You can benefit your children by working cooperatively with your child’s parent to minimize conflict between you and employing the following ten tips
- Assure children that both parents love them. “I need both of you to stay involved in my life. Please write letters make phone calls, and ask me lots of questions. When you don’t stay involved, I feel like I’m not important and that you don’t really love me.”
- Only provide children with age appropriate information about what is happening in their family – in ways they can understand. “I want to know whether we are all going to be together for Christmas?”
- Children need reassurance that what has happened is not their fault. “When you fight, I think that I did something wrong and I feel guilty”
- Help children to maintain contact with both parents – and their wider family. “If you act jealous or upset, I feel like I need to take sides and love one parent more than the other.”
- Help to make transitions between both homes a positive experience so children can go easily between their two homes. “I want to love you both and enjoy the time that I spend with each of you. Please support me and the time that I spend with each of you.”
- Communicate directly with your spouse and never ask children to be messengers. “Please communicate directly with my other parent so that I don’t have to send messages back and forth.”
- Children do not want to take sides – don’t make them. “When talking about my other parent, please say only nice things, or don’t say anything at all. When you say mean, unkind things about my other parent, I feel like you are expecting me to take your side.”
- Children need their parents to make decisions. “Please remember that I want both of you to be a part of my life. I count on my mum and dad to raise me, to teach me what is important, and to help me when I have problems.”
- Children can cope with short-term disruption – as long as parents continue to support them?
- And finally …..Conflict is the major cause of unhappiness and poor outcomes for children.
Please stop fighting and work hard to get along with each other. Try to agree on matters related to me”.