ANY parent who has been through a break-up knows that it is one of the most challenging periods you will ever encounter.
I have lived it personally, when my own relationship of ten years broke down after my ex cheated with a friend of mine.
We divorced in 2008, but I knew from the moment I asked him to leave that we were going to need to work really hard to foster an amicable relationship that prioritised the feelings of our kids, now 18 and 16, above our own.
We would need to grow into co-parents who would offer our innocent boys a secure foundation — and that is exactly what we did.
I was saddened to see tweets by actor Ioan Gruffudd and actress wife Alice Evans that seemed to forget the most important element when it comes to dealing with a family breakdown: Protecting their kids from turmoil.
Ioan, 48, had left Alice, 50, for actress Bianca Wallace, 29, who he had allegedly been cheating with for three years, ending the couple’s 13-year marriage.
A toxic break-up is damaging to all parties but sadly, it is always the children who suffer most.
Posting nasty comments about how betrayed you may have been means you are considering your hurt feelings over your children’s wellbeing. This toxic behaviour may make both parties feel momentarily better but it will damage their children and the relationship they have with them, which is a tragedy.
If they fail to work on the relationship with the mutual goal of becoming co-parents, they are likely to psychologically scar the children they adore, potentially causing them to struggle with trust in their own relationships.
Or they will feel so terrified of abandonment that they will cling to relationships that are bad for them.
Here I explain how to prioritise the kids and be the best parent you can be.
BE NICE ABOUT YOUR EX: Kids need you to be their hero. They rely on you to make sense of a confusing world. Prioritise their needs by treating your ex with respect.
During my own divorce, I made sure I spoke positively about my ex. Even now, more than a decade later, neither of my children have heard me say a bad word about him. By concentrating on his positives, I soothed the sadness and betrayal of his affair and learnt to like him as a co-parent.
GO TOGETHER TO ANY PARENTS’ EVENINGS: Your children need both of you to help them navigate their emotional, physical and psychological world. Great co-parents aim to agree behavioural boundaries and shared responsibilities when it comes to kids’ activities.
My ex came with me to parents’ evenings and sports events, and when my beloved father Don died, he came to the funeral with our sons — a special gift that comes from showing solidarity.
THINK OF YOUR KIDS’ WEDDINGS: Ask yourself how your kids will view your behaviour in ten years’ time, as one day they will hold you to account for your actions. If you see they will have grounds for feeling let down, it is time to grow up. It helped me to visualise the future, with my ex and I smiling side by side as we attended our sons’ weddings. That will be a reality one day.
TALK TO A THIRD PARTY: Seek help if the divorce is difficult. Attending mediation can make a positive difference and if you feel unable to discuss delicate issues without you or your ex blowing up around the kids, it can be an absolute godsend. I found that finances caused the most friction. We needed to divide assets and my brother sat with us to take the emotion out of it.
COVER FOR YOUR EX: Children need consistency and routines will become more important than ever.
You both need to turn up when and where you say you will, demonstrating you care about the kids above all else. If your ex needs to change plans, do what I used to do and tell your kids they really wanted to see them and will make up the time.
NEVER ARGUE IN FRONT OF YOUR KIDS: It is essential to keep the difficult conversations you need to have with your ex separate from those you each have with your children.
Telephone and video communication between your kids and your ex should be a sacred space and no matter how angry you may feel, or how desperate you are to give them a piece of your mind, hijacking their conversations is out of order.
My ex and I have never argued in front of our children and because of this we have all been able to grow together as a perfectly dysfunctionally functional family.
DON’T GO ‘INSTA OFFICIAL’ WITH YOUR NEW LOVE: If either of you meet someone new, have the decency to discuss this with your ex. Avoid putting pictures of you playing “happy families” on social media, as this can provoke some pretty challenging feelings.
Children find meeting parents’ partners tough, so try to make sure you and your ex are on the same page.
IMAGINE YOUR LIFE WITHOUT KIDS: Your kids exist because of the relationship you had with your ex and that means no matter how it ended, nothing can take away the blessings of your children. Imagine how dull your life would be without them.
Whenever I needed to keep calm, or found myself feeling upset about how my relationship ended, I concentrated on how grateful I am for my kids and reminded myself they are worth it no matter what.
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