10 ways to protect your child from the effects of separation


Child between parentsWhen couples split up, it's not just the adults who find it emotionally damaging - the effects on their children can be devastating. So it's important that despite your feelings towards your child's mother, you make choices that protect your child from the worst of the fallout. 

Every couple's situation and every child is different, but there are some basic ground rules that you and your ex will need to follow if you're serious about damage limitation.

1. Shield your child from conflict

How much conflict between you and your ex that your child absorbs will be the key factor in how well they adapt to their new reality. You need to make sure they're not exposed to adult conflict, or they risk feeling torn between you both, or that they are somehow responsible. 

2. Respect your child's relationship with their mum

You may no longer love each other - you may actively loathe each other - but negativity from one parent toward the other will make your child feel personally attacked. So never, ever criticise their mother in front of your child - it will be very damaging for them.

3. Try to sustain your child's standard of living

Children from separated families often suffer because their standard of living with one or both parents drops. So doing your best to provide for your children financially is a vital contribution to their wellbeing. Be systematic, and seek financial help if you need it.

4. Keep communicating about - and for - your children

Whatever your feelings about your ex, you still need to be able to communicate with her for the sake of your children. If you can't talk face-to-face, find another way to communicate - phone, email or text.

  • More on communicating with your child's mother on Dad.info 

5. Shield your children from your own misery

Your child doesn't need to witness your upset. No matter how hard you're finding it, never allow your hurt to bleed into interactions with your children. You're the grown-up and they must be allowed to remain the child.

  • More on emotional support on Dad.info

6. Try to get your child to express what they are feeling

Children are adept at hiding experiences from their parents, especially if there's a crisis. Don't avoid your child's pain, even if you feel you've caused it. Try to get them to open up, listen without interrupting, acknowledge their feelings and reassure them. If your child is too young to talk, get them to draw how they feel.

7. Don't sweat the small stuff

You and your child's mother need to talk about the things you both consider to be the most important in your child's upbringing. Ideally, you need to agree on these and then accept that you will both do a good enough job of parenting. 

  • More on reaching agreement on Dad.info

8. Be reassuringly reliable

Do what you say you'll do, when and where you say you'll do it, and be in a fit state to do it. Your child deserves the certainty that this creates.

9. Be flexible

Separation isn't a one-off event - it evolves. Don't be rigid about contact arrangements or threaten court action unless you absolutely need to. The arrangements are for the benefit of your child, so be flexible around parenting time if it's in their interests.

  • More on your right to flexible working on Dad.info

10. Keep on keeping on

Government statistics suggest that up to 25% of children never see their non-resident parent - and this is often their dad. Do everything in your power to maintain your relationship with them. Sometimes this can feel like pretty lonely and difficult, but the love and security you give your children will last them a lifetime. Don't give up.

  • More on things to bear in mind in the long term on Dad.info 
  • Chat to other dads on Mumsnet about protecting your child from the effects of divorce


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Last updated: over 3 years ago