Marriage Separation and Kids: Do’s and Don’ts
There are a lot of reasons why a couple might choose marriage separation. Sometimes, arguments or infidelity have driven a husband and wife apart. One partner may need time to re-evaluate the relationship, or the separation could be a mutual decision intended to ultimately make the marriage better. Couples can benefit from time away from one another, and some relationships can be improved by a trial separation. Of course, a separation can simply be a step toward divorce.
When you have children, the situation becomes even more complicated, and it’s important to talk to your kids about what’s going on. How much detail you include might depend on the age of the children and the circumstances at hand. While you can (and should) omit certain information, it’s important to be open with your children and to answer their questions as honestly as you can. Here are some more guidelines to follow.
Do make sure both parents spend plenty of time with the children. Even if one parent moves out, he or she should maintain regular contact and seek to maintain as much normalcy as possible. The prospect of their parents splitting up can be terrifying to a child. It can feel as if their entire world is coming apart. They may begin to question things they had once believed in. The sudden departure of one parent is extremely confusing – and potentially damaging – to a child.
Don’t tell your children disturbing details, and under no circumstances should you badmouth your partner to your children. Whatever your spouse has done to anger you, remember that your children look up to them. It is not your place to deny your children the right to feel that their parent is a good person.
Do give your kids extra attention. Your children will likely want more of you and/or your spouse’s time. They might seem excessively needy, whiny, or as if they are acting out more. Often, these are just attempts to test the waters and make sure that you are still paying attention to them. Don’t allow bad behavior, but indulge your child when he or she wants extra affection.
Don’t ask your kids to take sides. During a marriage separation, children can feel caught in the middle. They should never be made to feel as if they are betraying one parent by loving or getting along with the other. This can backfire on the parents as the child gets older. Over time, a child will learn to manipulate the parents’ bad communication to get away to get away with things that probably wouldn’t be allowed if the parents were more united. You and your spouse should agree on some basic ground rules when it comes to the kids, and stick to them no matter how bad things might get between the two of you.
Do try to help nurture relationships with extended family on the other parent’s side. Even if you personally don’t want to associate with them, remember that they are important figures in your child’s life and it would be unfair for them to be denied contact.
The most important thing that a separated couple must tell their children is that the separation is not their fault. Assure your children that whatever went wrong happened because of you and your spouse, and not because of them. Tell them that their parents love them and that they are still part of a family. Kids want to be included and they need to know they are loved.
Whether your marriage separation ends in divorce or reconciliation, take special care to make sure that your children are coping well with their changing family.