Image: Parent Zone
By Ann-Marie Colvin and Gingerbread
Divorce and separation are tough on children, but as a parent you can make the process and its effects less painful through good communication, effective planning and ensuring that all decisions are made with the child’s best interests at heart.
Below are 10 things to consider when you are making arrangements for your child about where they live, who they spend their time with and how this happens.
1 Put them first
Most parents want the best for their children, but when emotions are running high it can be hard to know what that is. It’s important that both parents listen to their children, and understand their needs and wishes and that this underpins all the decisions about arrangements that are made.
2 Never argue or fight in front of your child
If you’re finding it difficult to come to an agreement without arguing, don’t do this within earshot of your child, even if you’re on the phone. It is hurtful and distressing for them, and can damage your relationship.
3 Don’t assume they knew your relationship was coming to an end
A separation may be a real shock to them. Give your child time to adjust to their new situation. It’s important to talk to them about how they are feeling. They may be worrying about things that haven’t occurred to you. It’s common for children to blame themselves for their parents’ separation. Explain that it’s not their fault, and keep reassuring them.
4 Plan ahead
Be prepared for the conversations you need to have about the arrangements for your child. Decide what aspects you need to agree on and which of these are most important. Try to explain the reasons behind your proposed arrangements. Agree on the easier things first and then go back to your priority list if you feel the discussion is going off track. Find a neutral place to talk away from your child, and think beforehand what compromises you’re prepared to make.
5 Focus on the practical
When working through how your child spends time with each parent, be realistic about the day-to-day practicalities. How will your kids get to and from school/childcare? Is there enough room for them to sleep over at both parents’ houses? What are the travel arrangements and what other help and resources are available to you? Suggest as many options as you can for how and when your child spends time with each of you, and try to find solutions to practical problems.
6 Plan ahead for the holidays
It’s common for parents to share school holidays. If your child has a relationship with their other parent and sees them regularly, let them know the travel arrangements, even if you don’t need their consent. Depending on the child’s age, you may want to involve them in planning the arrangements so they feel included and secure.
7 Agree arrangements for significant days like birthdays, Christmas and other family occasions in advance
It’s common for parents to take turns seeing their children on special days, alternating each year. Invite older children to get involved in the decisions. In terms of opportunities to meet up with other family, children should be encouraged to keep in touch with important people in their lives, such as wider family members.
8 Record what you have agreed
When an agreement is made you should all be clear about what’s going to happen. While not legally binding, some parents find it helpful to write down the arrangement to avoid confusion or disagreements later on. Make sure that your children are clear about the arrangements for spending time with each parent, and that there are no sudden changes unless it’s unavoidable.
9 Review arrangements if they’re not working/as your child grows up
Prepare to review arrangements as your child grows up and as circumstances change. As your child gets older they are likely to have their own opinions on what works for them.
10 Don’t be hard on yourself if the final arrangements are not ideal
Just do your best, be reasonable, and keep your child at the heart of the decisions.
Get support when things feel difficult. You might want to share your experiences and get help from friends or other single parents who have been through the same situation. You can also join a support group or online forum such as a Gingerbread group (www.gingerbread.org.uk/groups) or online forum (www.gingerbread.org.uk/forum).
Information supplied by Gingerbread. For more information, call the single parent Freephone advice line on 0808 802 0925.
Download Gingerbread’s fact sheet Making Arrangements for Your Children here or click on the link at the bottom of the page.
Click here for Staying connected: 4 ways the online world can help families going through a divorce.
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Please note, some of the advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and is not necessarily the view of either Parent Zone or CEOP.