When a relationship ends, there is usually an inevitable sense of bereavement. Even though you may have been terribly hurt by your ex and the break up is a relief, there will still be feelings of shock, denial, fear, grief and sadness at the loss of what was once something good. And just when you’re at your lowest, when you think you can’t deal with any more pain, you’re also only too aware that this is the time your children need you most. They, too, have to cope with their own emotions about the break up.
Whilst you have lost a partner, your child has lost a parent, which is a very different experience.
Whilst you have lost a partner, your child has lost a parent, which is a very different experience. Along with their sadness and confusion, they may blame themselves for what has happened, they may withdraw and become introverted, and they may become aggressive. They could also be frightened that having lost one parent, they might lose the other one too.
It’s incredibly difficult to watch your children go through this pain, but here are some dos and don’ts that may help:
Do remember that while you might have been terribly hurt by your ex, he or she is still your child’s beloved parent. Aim to work together in matters such as contact visits and child support. If this seems impossible, try at least to ensure your child is out of earshot when hurtful words are spoken.
Don’t give your children too much information. They don’t need to hear all the details of the break-up.
Don’t keep secrets from the children. This is not a contradictory statement to the above; children don’t need to know details, but they do need to be kept aware of the possible consequences. For example, if a divorce means you need to move house, don’t keep the house move a secret from your children, or they will feel even more insecure than they already do.
Do allow your child to express anger; don’t tell them it’s wrong to be angry. Comfort and reassure when the anger abates, showing them that your love is unconditional, and doesn’t depend on their mood. In the calmness, it may be that they are able to open up and talk to you; be sure to listen well.
Do give children comforting cuddles and reassurance. Even adolescents can appreciate a big hug!
Do assure them again and again that it’s not their fault, and that both you and their other parent love them very much, and will always do so.
Don’t over-compensate for the loss of a parent by spoiling the children. It doesn’t make up for something they’ve lost; it makes them even less secure. So keep to the same boundaries and guidelines as you did before – for example, keep bedtime the same as it was.
Do let your children talk freely to another adult, whether it’s a much-loved granddad, a teacher, or a close family friend. If your child can talk through their feelings with someone you both respect, it will help them come to terms with what’s happened. Yes, they can talk to you – but they might be afraid of hurting you. And they might want to say things about you, too!
With your support and reassurance, your child can come through this dark experience a better person. Having been through such pain, they can emerge as caring, empathic and responsible young people, who are able to help others just as you have helped them.