You have decided to go your separate ways. You may find that despite best intentions, unresolved conflict comes to the surface when it comes to agreeing contact arrangements for your children.
Limiting children's exposure to the conflict of divorce is so important, and here are five tips for keeping conflict out of contact:
- Plan ahead: this has so many benefits. It sends a clear message to your children that you are committed to ensuring their relationship with the other parent is protected. What could illustrate that better than planning a whole year around contact with their mum or dad?
It also sends a clear message to your partner that you take their time with the children seriously. When a partner leaves the family home, the basis upon which they see the children shifts overnight. Agreeing a calendar a year in advance demonstrates commitment to making sure they also get quality time with the children and should produce goodwill which in turn should help with discussions about specific (more emotive) dates. This leads us to number 2 below.
Be pro-active about anticipating the emotional complexities involved on certain anniversaries, feast days and holidays. A conversation about a particular family event or party, a few months in advance, is going to be far less emotionally charged than with weeks to go and it's a good idea to front load this sort of dialogue if you can.
Be civil when you meet. This can be especially difficult when you are in the midst of divorce proceedings. However, children, especially young children, are hugely sensitive to the timbre of your dialogue. In Christina McGhee's book(1) she explains that children see themselves in binary terms, comprising one half with one parent and the other half, the other. Therefore children receive criticism of their parent as criticism of the corresponding half of themselves. If you can't be civil then it is better to think of alternative ways for the children to transition between you – having one parent drop off at school to end their time with the children, and the other pick up from school to start their time, can be a useful tool to avoid a scene.
Give your child permission to enjoy their time with their other parent. Your child will have divided feelings of loyalty when parents separate (and long after the divorce is finalised). Even if they do enjoy time with the other parent, they may feel guilty about that and not want to tell you. Giving them permission to enjoy time with the other parent is an important gift to your child and will also pay dividends in your own relationship with them. They will appreciate it in years to come and will continue to see you as someone they can open up to and talk to in other crucial areas of their life, such as school and friendship issues.
Finally, try to take the long view. Long after divorce proceedings or separation disputes are over, your former partner will continue to be in your life as your children's other parent. Accept this and try to focus on maintaining a relationship that is as good as possible for the sake of your children.