According to current statistics, by the time your eldest child turns 13, there is a 61% chance that you and your child’s other parent will have separated. I’m not telling you this to make you doubt your relationship, I’m telling you this because if your child or children are in the 61% then the following blog post may help you.

If your family has broken up (or may one day break up) then it is important to know that it is normal (and healthy) for your child or children to feel angry, sad, guilty, resentful, confused, alone, betrayed, hopeless and helpless!

(Let’s talk about one child so I don’t have to keep writing child or children!)

What your child feels depends on heaps of variables including; when the break up happened, the circumstances around the break up (nasty or amicable), your child’s self-awareness, your child’s coping strategies and how much support your child has received to manage their grief.

Grieving is a natural, normal and painful process that helps us work through loss until one day we accept our loss. If you and your partner have split up, your child has lost; their family, their safety and security, their sense of belonging and their place in the world. They have also lost one of their parents (hopefully not altogether but they have lost them from their home and daily life).

Family break ups can have a massive impact on the wellbeing of children.

To support your child through a family break up it is important to allow them to grieve and not to take anything they do or say personally. This is particularly the case if your child blames you for the break up. I will make up an example to illustrate this…

Sara is 11 and her mum and dad have recently separated after a long and nasty end to their relationship. Sara’s dad didn’t want to leave and openly blamed the mother for kicking him out. Sara loves her dad and is very confused about the situation. She knows her dad wasn’t being a perfect husband and father but she thinks her mum gave up too easily. Sara may not realise it consciously but she blames her mum for the break up.

6 months down the track and Sara has gradually become more and more reserved. She won’t talk about the break up, she won’t talk about her feelings or express her feelings. She has talked to one of her friends at school who has also gone through a family break up, but that’s all the support she has received.

The worst thing about the break up for Sara is that now she is not close to either of her parents. She doesn’t see her dad regularly and when she does, he complains that it was all her mother’s fault and that he didn’t do anything wrong.

Sara lives at home with her mum and little sister most of the time (she goes to her dad’s every second weekend) and she has distanced herself from both her mum and her little sister. When she does come to the table to eat meals or get in the car to go to school or sport Sara is often rude and disrespectful. When Sara’s mum tries to cuddle her and get close to her Sara pushes her away and says things like; “Leave me alone, I’m not a baby. Don’t touch me. I hate you. Go away.”

I always find it interesting how human beings (we) often push the person we love the most in the world away when we are hurt, confused and unhappy with ourselves and our life. It’s as though we are testing whether they will be there for us when we are at our worst. Or maybe we are just scared to be vulnerable in case they can’t love us at our weakest.

Okay, so what can Sara’s mum (or you if you are in a similar situation) do to support Sara?

  1. Know that you are the best parent for your child. There is no one else who can do a better job than you can. Your child chose you to be their mum (or dad). You can do this (even if you have stuffed up and even though you will continue to stuff up)!
  2. Love your child unconditionally. No matter how many times they tell you they hate you, or push you away, or swear at you, or try to physically hurt you, do not take your love away from them (and don’t threaten to send them to live with their other parent either). When the time feels right, tell your child you love them and that you will always be there for them no matter what, and keep trying to cuddle them (cuddles are more powerful than you can possibly imagine).
  3. Stand up for yourself! If your child is rude or disrespectful tell them that their behaviour is not acceptable and that you don’t talk to them or treat them like that so they need to stop talking to you and treating you like that. Say your piece and then turn around and walk away. You do not need to argue, threaten or punish. Doing anything in retaliation will just increase your child’s anger and give them more fuel for their fire!
  4. Take your child on a one on one adventure and do something fun together, just the two of you (take them out of school for the day). Find a time and place on that day to sit with them (a picnic lunch maybe?) and tell them the details of the break up at an age appropriate level so they know the truth about why the relationship broke down. Ask them if they have any questions and answer honestly. Always be respectful of the other parent – even if they are at fault. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from trying to turn your child against their other parent.
  5. If your child is genuinely angry at you it will help them enormously if you can find someone else they trust (someone neutral) who will support them to take a Pit Stop (counsellor, mentor, relative, one of your friends). A Pit Stop is basically where we encourage our kids to say everything Shady they have been thinking, no matter how mean, nasty, rude, or unacceptable. It’s also an opportunity for our kids to get their emotions out, to release their repressed feelings of anger, resentment, guilt, sadness and loss. “Better out than in, I always say!” (Shrek quote). It is kind of like doing a big poo to get rid of physical waste – taking a Pit Stop gets rid of emotional waste. If your child doesn’t let go of their Shady thoughts and feelings they will stay inside them and negatively affect their future thoughts, feelings, behaviours and choices. If you can’t find anyone to support your child in this process, suggest they write all their thoughts down in a nasty letter to you and then when they are done with the letter support them to burn it (do not read it or keep it!)
  6. Hang in there! Be your child’s rock! Keep going. Do not take anything they do or say personally – it is their pain talking! Once they let go of their pain (in their own time) things will change!

I hope this helps the 61% of you who may need it!

Love Kathy