Telling educators and carers
Dr Sharman says it’s important to arm educators and carers with information about the separation or divorce so they’re aware of the changes in the child’s circumstances.
“Children's separation anxiety is very likely to spill over into day-care/kindy and their teacher needs to know the reason why.
“Definitely talk to the child’s teacher or primary carer. If it’s a separation pull them aside in the morning and just say, ‘My partner and I are getting separated. In case you see any behaviours you’re not sure of, that’s what is going on at home’.
“Early educators see this stuff all the time sadly, and they will know what the behaviours are to keep an eye out for.
“Also, let the centre know of any custody arrangements as most will require any specific court-ordered arrangements to be provided to them in writing.”
Avoid involving children in your emotions
Dr Sharman says going through separation and divorce is highly emotional but it’s important to find ways to express your emotions without involving your children.
“I recommend choosing a very good friend or two, who perhaps themselves have been through divorce, as your ‘divorce buddies’. Have them available so you can have a good vent and air your frustrations - at all times out of earshot of your children.
“I’ve seen this done a couple of different ways. I’ve seen people talk about their divorce up and down the corridor at work and if that’s your process that’s fine, but other people are more private.
“Email at night. Even if it’s a text to your divorce buddy at night after the kids have gone to bed. Your divorce buddy might have some really good advice and it keeps it away from your kids and that’s what is really important.
“You just have to take the high road and be vigilant in not appearing distressed, upset or venting about your situation. Use your time with your children to focus on them, not your ex.”
Making rules and expectations
Dr Sharman says some of the traditional sticking points between parents as they try to negotiate co-parenting agreements include time with children, finances, medical or schooling issues.
She says the time leading up to the divorce being made official and any associated court orders is usually the most difficult.
Dr Sharman says if parents can agree on rules and expectations and keep them consistent between homes, this can provide some sense of stability and familiarity.
“You should sit down with your co-parent and agree on a set of rules,” she says.
“Basic things like what time are they getting to school, do we do homework and what sport activities.
“I’ve seen parents have terrible fall outs over what the children are having for dinner. ‘This is the kind of nutritional experience they will have at home. How long will they watch TV and what kinds of programs.’ People who do this will nut this stuff out and work out the basic ground rules between them so the child has consistency.”
Try to avoid further radical life changes
Dr Sharman also suggests that parents avoid introducing further “disrupters” onto the scene.
“It takes months to years for children to process and feel secure in their new family structure. Introducing a new boy/girlfriend into that mix soon after this upheaval, or engaging in radical lifestyle changes is highly insensitive at best.
“Understand that your desire to move on and reinvent yourself might not be appreciated by children who need time to grieve the loss of their family unit and adapt to your and their new situation.
“Most psychologists recommend not even introducing a new boyfriend/girlfriend until the separation is at least one year old; and you have been dating this person for a year at least and see this as a serious relationship.”
Mediation services for separating families
Dr Sharman says if negotiations break down it is best to communicate on these issues through a mediator. Relationships Australia offers mediation services for separating families.
“Try to avoid involving lawyers or the family court. You need to understand our court process is based on an adversarial system and will not be looking at your scenario from the best interests of the child. It should only ever be used as an absolute last resort. If you cannot negotiate, mediate.
“In mediation you are usually assigned a mediator and you can discuss your concerns privately and they meet with you and your partner to keep the conversation on track. They will help you come to an arrangement that both parties can live with. They will keep you on task not let you drift off on past grievance with that person.”