Going through the dissolution of a relationship and moving towards divorce or permanent separation can be an incredibly difficult experience that brings out a wide variety of emotions as you navigate an uncertain and unfamiliar future. For those with children involved in the equation, it is crucial to move forward with caution, especially in high-conflict situations where both parties may feel animosity towards each other.
Children of parental separation are highly vulnerable and are often negatively affected by warring parents. While it can be difficult for adults to build a cohesive foundation for their family unit as they separate, particularly when dealing with a toxic or narcissistic spouse doing so is essential for the health and long-term wellness of your children. Below, we’ll explore some of the damage caused by high-conflict environments, as well as positive steps to explore moving forward. Read on to learn more.
What Leads to High-Conflict Separations?
High-conflict divorces or breakups can stem from many different sources. Infidelity, financial stressors, long-term resentment, and compound factors can aggravate an already painful experience and lead to extreme emotions that ultimately cause tension and discord in the home. It is essential to be aware that, as emotional sponges, children quickly pick up on these cues and prolonged exposure to conflict can cause significant, long-lasting harm and even delay emotional development into adulthood.
Constant exposure to high-conflict household situations can lead to the following for children:
- Low self-esteem/self-worth (the child(ren) may blame themselves for your separation)
- Unresolved feelings of anger and disappointment.
- Isolation and withdrawal from activities, friends, and relationships with other family members
- Parental alienation
- Difficulties in school
- Anxiety and Depression
- Difficulty forming positive peer, romantic and professional relationships both in the short and long-term
- And more
With such high stakes at risk for your child’s well-being, how do you navigate a contentious situation without causing harm?
Put Kids First
To avoid as much of the psychological and emotional trauma caused by divorce and parental separation, it is essential to prioritize the health and wellness of your children above the emotions caused by the conflict with your former spouse. This means focusing on fostering a consistent environment in both households (see Parallel Parenting with a Narcissist), facilitating open and honest communication that allows a child to express their concerns without fear of retribution, and minimizing disruption to their normal routine wherever possible.
Remember: YOU are going through a separation, not your child. Their needs should always come first.
Never Make Them Choose Sides
Even if you feel that you have very valid reasons to part ways with your current partner, it is unfair to make your children feel that they must choose between parents or make one parent the “bad” person in the situation. Children deserve to have healthy, stable relationships with both parental units wherever possible. No matter how you feel about the other party, unless your child is in physical, emotional, or mental danger, encouraging a continued connection with their other parent is crucial for their growth and development. Wherever possible, try to have a cohesive approach to your parenting style/rules (more on that in a moment), and allow your children to continue their bond with your ex in a healthy manner.
Participate in Appropriate Communication
In high-conflict separations, it’s (unfortunately) not uncommon for emotions to bubble over and spill out in front of children. While it’s completely understandable to become frustrated, it’s just as important to ‘play it cool’ in front of your kids and maintain amicable communication. If you are uncomfortable maintaining an outwardly friendly/normative relationship with your ex in front of your children, strive to be as cordial and civil as possible with one another when communicating in person. When making plans, try to stick to text based communication methods like email and text messaging to avoid confusion, and to have clearly documented records should you ever need them for legal purposes.
Remember: They may no longer be your spouse, but they are your child’s parent. Kindness and respect are crucial to maintaining a healthy environment for everyone.
Plan around Parenting Styles
As you settle into operating two separate households, establishing a solid foundation and co-parenting/parallel parenting plan is essential to reducing conflict and creating consistency for your children. It is reasonable to expect that your parenting styles may differ, and important to remember that there are many ways to resolve issues. To minimize confusion and conflict for both parents, as well as for your children, developing a comprehensive plan that addresses standards around schooling, medical care, extracurricular activities, disciplinary measures and other factors for the present, as well as with the long-term future in mind is crucial to fostering stability that allows your children to continue to thrive.
Seek Professional Assistance
Divorce and parenting seperately is hard. One of the best things you can do for your mental health, as well as for your children, is to work with an experienced counselling and reunification consultant like the team at Pathways Family Coaching. At Pathways, we understand that every family dynamic is unique, and that navigating the uncertain waters of co-parenting can be challenging without guidance you can trust.
Pathways Family Coaching offers a wide variety of online courses and one-on-one professional coaching to help prepare you for parallel parenting and minimizing the disruption and emotional distress caused by high-conflict divorces. Our expert coaches and comprehensive resources are ready to integrate with your existing legal and therapeutic teams, guiding you toward a healthy parallel parenting arrangement for you and your child. From Pathways Through Conflict to our Behavioral Pattern Finder and tailored solutions, we’re here to guide you through healthy separate parenting, one step at a time.
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