Separating well - doing it for the kids

Many of us remember a time when it was thought that once we were parents, staying together - no matter how miserable we were - was better for the kids. Nowdays, research tells us that divorce is not necessarily worse for kids, especially if the alternative means remaining in an environment where there is ongoing conflict between parents. In fact, regardless of whether parents stay together or not, what helps kids to be at their best is when they know that both their parents love them, are there to provide them with emotional and practical support, and are thinking about what's best for them. Parents who achieve this work hard at cultivating a good 'working relationship' with their ex - not necessarily a friendship (this is not always possible or even desirable) but a solid alliance where children's issues can be thought about and worked through, always with what's best for the kids in mind, and not allowing past hurts to ambush kids' needs. Sounds great, doesn't it? Many of us know this is not so easy in practice, though. One partner may still be hurting for many years after separation (especially if s/he was not the one to make the decision to end the relationship) and may find it emotionally and mentally challenging to have to try and put this aside in order to have an ongoing parenting partnership. What can make this process easier? Setting up formal agreements can be a good way to minimize potential flare-ups. Creating and then sticking to robust arrangements about how much time children will spend with each parent, how pick-ups and drop-offs will happen, how the inevitable variations to the existing set-up will be negotiated (face to face when the children aren't in earshot? By phone or email? Mediated by a professional or other third party?), who will pay for school fees, clothing etc etc. helps to establish clear boundaries and a structure to assist each parent to manage triggers of old painful emotions that may be activated. If none of these are sufficient, counselling can be helpful after separation. For an individual parent. it can be a place to work through unresolved grief so that this doesn't affect your ability to manage parenting after separation in the way you would like. For a separated couple, counselling may be more like a mediation process, where you can be supported to develop workable agreements and review how they are going, in order to craft these over time to what each of you are best able to manage. After all, it's all about the kids! What may seem easier for you as an individual (perhaps having nothing to do with your ex, or blaming him/her for what went wrong as a way to make sense of painful feelings) may hurt the kids and your ongoing relationship with them. When post-separation parenting is done well, kids can thrive in the secure knowledge that each of you love them and are still committed to supporting their optimal growth and development, and to having a continuing loving relationship with them.

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