Being good parents even when you are no longer a couple
In 2020, the National Association of Italian Divorce Lawyers recorded a boom in separations as an effect of the pandemic and forced cohabitation, an increase of 60 per cent compared to the previous year. And what is the situation like now? According to a recent survey by Euromonitor International, reported by ANSA, by 2030 separations will increase worldwide by 78.5%.
According to the latest ISTAT report, in 2021 in Italy, there were 97,913 separations (+22.5% compared to the previous year) and 83,192 divorces (+24.8% compared to 2020).
What happens to children when parents decide to separate? What are the risks associated to such an event in children’s life?
The psychopedagogic team of the Patrizio Paoletti Foundation answers:
When family roles, relationships and circumstances change, there are children who tend to be more sad, anxious, angry, needy of attention and some may develop significant behavioral problems, but the effects of separation are not necessarily always negative.
It is not the separation itself that causes difficulties in children and adolescents but how it is managed, especially in times like the ones we are living through now, full of change and destabilizing factors. It is the conflict that can arise within the couple at such times that often has a negative effect on the well-being of the children. Some studies on this topic in fact highlight the relationship between parents in conflict and children with emotional and behavioral problems. These studies show that children experience Cos’è lo stress? Dal punto di vista clinico, lo stress è... More, unhappiness and insecurity during separation, not so much because their family structure changes, but because of the hostility that often accompanies these changes. Children living in families that are united, but with high levels of conflict between parents, manifest similar problems as when there is conflict in divorce.
If there is cooperation among adults, children show less stress and less aggressive behaviour.
It is important to listen and not leave children alone, in regards to questions they may have about their parents’ separation. The tense and uncertain mood that accompanies separations can, when it is intense and prolonged, lead to anguish, above all due to things unspoken and the fear of the unknown. In order to respond to this lack of understanding about what is going on around them, children develop unhelpful feelings and beliefs, precisely with the aim of filling the void created by their uncertainties and answering the unresolved questions that suddenly emerge in large numbers. In some cases, children may believe that their parents split up because of them. Or when faced with the fact that their parents will no longer live together, they may be afraid of not seeing them again and of having lost them. That is why it is important to distance these unhelpful thoughts as soon and as far as possible, through dialogue, listening and reassurance.
4 suggestions to be good parents even when you are no longer a couple
You can stop being a couple but you never stop being a parent, not even when you decide that the best solution is to separate. Here are 4 tips drawn up by the psycho-pedagogical team of the Patrizio Paoletti Foundation that can help you if you are going through a separation and have children:
- You are a parent forever, take care of the parental relationship
Being a parent is a profound responsibility that lasts a lifetime. Restoring a climate of serenity and respect within the family nucleus is a priority for parents during a separation. Indeed, the parental relationship does not end with the separation, it remains an important reference for the children. The former partner will not walk out of the other’s life, separation is not absolute departure. In cases where the level of conflict is high, it is important to seek help from a psychologist or a family mediator. Such experts are able to provide important support.
- Consider the future relationship with your child
Considering the future helps us. There are a few questions that can support us. For example: How do we want our child to remember us overcoming this difficult moment in the family? It is important that they retain an idea of serenity, of positivity, of change that does not affect their ability to read and experience the relationships they will have in life. Focus on their future, asking yourself what you want for them.
- Consider the future of the relationship with your ex-partner
Although it may be challenging in some cases, it is important to cultivate an attitude of listening and trust in our ex-partner’s parenting skills. You are no longer a couple, but you remain a parent and a family. To do so, the first step is to ask yourself: What are their positive aspects? What are their strengths? Answering these questions supports you in emphasizing the qualities that work in the future common educational project. Building a solid alliance will also support us later, at times when the educational challenges, related to the child’s growth, will be more demanding. It will be crucial to have a person with whom to share, agree on objectives and educational strategies. Wherever possible, from the very beginning of the separation, try to establish complicity, alliance, cohesion, to create a peaceful climate to accompany this new phase of life. Above all, this will help the child not to feel the need to take sides with one or the other.
- Focus on agreements concerning everyday life
Facilitating the transition to separation allows, through an agreed and shared routine, to give the child security even at times when his or her daily routine will be completely disrupted. When the new routine is agreed upon first between the parents and then communicated to the child, it is more likely to be accepted. Whatever the child manifests, however, should not be judged but contained, with great sensitivity. In changing the family routine, reassure them that you love them and that both parents are close to them.
- Set an example: take care of your emotions
The child is influenced by our emotions and naturally tunes into them. Don’t lie, embrace the moods you are experiencing, even the difficult ones that may result from this situation. Welcoming is the first step to transformation. Our children don’t need perfect adults, but stable adults who know how to forgive themselves. The desire to manage your emotions and your commitment to this, day after day, will make the emotional climate of these times calmer and more relaxed. Family life is one of the first places for children to learn about emotional life. This effort is therefore very important for them and for their future. Therefore, make contact with the best part of yourself several times a day in this way: take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and find a place of clarity within yourself. Ask yourself what is really important to you and what you would like your child to learn from this situation. Let your innermost values guide you.