With rates of separation and divorce worldwide trending upwards, chances are that you or someone you know is separated or in the process of separating. According to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale — a tool used to measure exposure to stressful situations — divorce is ranked as the second highest cause of stress, followed by separation, outranked only by the death of a spouse.
These elevated levels of stress can make the demands of parenting even more strenuous when it means having to negotiate and co-parent with someone you no longer wish to live with. All the while juggling the uncertainty, change and adjustments that divorce and separation can bring.
Many children of separation and divorce also carry the stress and tension brought on by these changes to their families. For some children, this burden is heavier than others.
Co-parents can lessen the load on their children using these strategies:
1. Answer this question: What memories will your children have of this time?
Once all the dust has settled and those children, now adults, are reflecting on this time, what will they remember the most about their parent’s separation?
Put yourself in your children’s shoes to answer this question and keep the focus on the children while encouraging co-parents to move away from fault-based thinking.
2. Take notice of the lens used to view the situation — what is in focus and what is blurred out. When using a zoom lens, the view focuses on the person directly in front of it and the viewfinder captures one individual, while blurring or cutting out the background.
This close-up lens can be the seed of much conflict infiltrating co-parenting and be the root cause of much post-separation conflict. The needs of an individual compete with the needs of the family.
Yet when a wide-angle lens is used, the view includes other members of the family and makes it easier to put ourselves in our children’s shoes.
3. Managing the emotions that come up at this time, through a child-focused lens, can prove a challenge. Have you noticed an increase in your stress and anxiety? Do what helps bring back a more balanced lifestyle and reduce that stress and anxiety.
When we give in to stress and anxiety it becomes easier to default to the blame and fault lens, moving away from the child-focused lens. Use this as a clue to kick start your self-care plan.
4. When planning and introducing changes to arrangements be guided and led by the pace of your slowest or youngest child. Be creative and flexible and take into account each child’s developmental stage. Get professional or expert help if you are unsure about this.
5. Reconsider any advice and support from family and friends who might belittle the other parent to you. The challenges of co-parenting can be inflated by those dear to you, who — while they are some of your biggest fans — don’t have a continuing relationship with the other parent. If they leave you feeling bitter towards your co-parent, that might be a sign to engage less with them on this topic, or ask them to stop.
6. Remember, divorce and separation are ranked as the second and third highest most stressful life events. You don’t have to do this alone: there are many family services designed to support co-parents and keep a child-focused lens which makes it easier to place yourself in your children’s shoes. From family mediators, counselors and mental health practitioners to divorce coaches, and even some family lawyers.
Meet Our Contributor — Rosemary Gattuso (Sydney NSW, Australia)
Rosemary Gattuso is a family mediator who has been in alternative dispute resolution practice in Sydney for more than 15 years, specializing in family mediation and restorative justice. She has helped many families to separate in a child-focused way. Rosemary also runs programs for schools, parents, individuals, and businesses and empowers personal growth. Find out more at rosemarygattuso.com.