It is a sad fact that however much two adults are hurt during a separation, invariably the children are hit even harder. As divorce solicitors, we hear a lot of their stories and it is always heart-breaking. It is something very private and personal so it was very brave of 14-year-old Hero Melia to speak so publically about her parents' split as an ambassador for charity Kids in the Middle. She spoke of the difficult times she went through, and continues to go through, in trying to juggle time with each parent and maintain her relationships with both of them. She described her father being terrified he would never see her again and crying at the gate, telling her and her brother that he loved them and wanted them to remember that. It clearly had a massive effect on her, but not necessarily the one he wanted. Most of what she remembers is centred around pain and conflict between her parents. So what tips can be given to a father who no longer lives with his children to help him move forward with his relationship with them?
It's the children who have “rights”
Fathers always want to know about their “rights” to see their children. I explain to them that, as parents, along with mum, they have “responsibilities”. The rights belong to their child: the right to have a good, loving relationship with both parents.
Don't throw mud
When relationships break down, parents naturally feel angry and hurt. It is not always easy to hide this, but being positive around the children, and not letting them hear negative things about their mum (or dad), is key to a happy long term relationship with your children. Developing a business-like relationship with your ex may seem unlikely at the outset, but if you can manage it, will protect the children from the more adult discussions that surround the separation.
If you feel that a discussion with your ex is getting out of hand and an argument is on the way, suggest that you both take some time out to calm down and carry on the discussion at a later date. Your children don't want to see you both screaming at each other on the doorstep. Keeping calm is the best policy.
It's good to talk
Communicate with your ex directly. Do not send messages through the children. This might be face to face, by text message or maybe even using a communication book. Find the system that works for you. In most cases, parents have parental responsibility for their children until they are 18. That can mean many years of working together. You need to find a way to make it work.
Attend as many important events for the children as you can. That might be parents' evenings, sports days, school plays, out-of-school clubs, or even just reading with them or completing homework. You will be able to share the children's enthusiasm and they will know that you are interested in what they do.
Have a plan
Some parents find it helpful to have a shared parenting plan. This sets out things such as routines, bedtimes, school holidays, responsibilities for completing homework, as well as days and times when the children will be in each parent's care. It is a good way to set down a blueprint for moving forward following separation and gives consistency in the parenting approach.
If you can't get to the point of agreeing on key points, then consider mediation. It is a good way of learning to communicate with each other with the help of a trained third party.
However you approach life after separation, you have to find a way to work together for the sake of the children. Not only will it make the coming years easier but it will also send a powerful message to your offspring that difficult situations can be overcome and agreement can be reached if you treat each other with respect and dignity.
Family solicitor, Staffordshire