When I see couples whose children are indulged with material possessions despite financial stressors on their relationship, I wonder if their children know about the finances? I hope they don’t! However the parents need to monitor their own spending priorities.
Reduce Conflict around Children
Other times I ask how conflict between partners impacts their children. I saw this clearly in the example mentioned above. There seemed to be a circular feedback loop: excessive spending produced stress which impacted the parental relationship which then impacted the children who witnessed conflict due to the stress. Hence parental relationships do matter to children!
Co-parenting without conflict is in the best interests of the children. A separated client I was working with was co-parenting well, although it had not always been like that. I affirmed the client and asked what helped them co-parent better. The reply was, “Some-one has to take the higher ground”. When one parent sets a good example of non-conflictual communication, this can influence the other parent to improve his or her own behaviours. This reminds me of the quip, “Love your kids more than you hate your ex” (Fried, Helen, 2014). If you carry hatred for your ex-partner, then you are sending a message to your children that you hate half of their genes and their heart.
When parents go through separation, there is a plethora of emotions to deal with. The pain and loss is real. Hence it is important to get support for oneself during this time, to have one’s feelings normalized and see a way forward that remembers the good times of the relationship and learns from the difficult times. This is so important as the parental relationship doesn’t end; it changes. Separated parents need to put aside their own emotions when considering the needs of their child.
The role of separated parents is to continue to help their child have a happy childhood, because “happy children lead to happy adults” [Conger, J.A. & Riggio, R.E. (2007) The Practice of Leadership: Growing the next generation of leaders. Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers; San Francisco, California]. Having a secure base by knowing that both parents love them is foundational for psychological development. This can be demonstrated through co-operative parenting, even though they cannot get along as partners. When parents refer to each other as ‘we’, encourage their children to spend (safe) time with the other parent and then not hound them for information about their visit, and speak directly to each other as parents rather than sending messages through their children – these capacities will go a long way to building a secure foundation for children.
Being child-focussed means being available for your child, while putting aside your own feelings and issues to deal with separately. Your children need you as the parent to give guidance and strength. They need you to be the parent; they can make their own friends. Learn from your life experience, know your values, and apply them. If you have a partner, agree on your important values, and be prepared to learn together what works best for both of you and your child.