“Brexit – it’s been hard to think of much else over the last couple of weeks”, says Ruth Smallacombe of Family Law in Partnership.
“I saw a very powerful letter from a group of 14 and 15 year olds in one of the newspapers which articulated how they, as one of the generations likely to be significantly affected by the fundamental changes in their world, felt they hadn’t been consulted, nor given a say and didn’t have a vote.
“They think we’re not old enough to understand, that we’re too young to have a view on society or on the country which we’ll inhabit as adults”.
“They (the adults) think they know better than us”.
These young people didn’t expect to make the final decision (they had to leave that to the adults they trusted). No, their cry and protest, which reflected their utter powerlessness at not having a forum to express their views, at the discounting of their opinions and their inability to influence an issue which will fundamentally affect the rest of their lives, echoes the cries of children and young people whose parents separate or divorce. Whilst they may not be able to get their parents to stay together (that’s a decision for the adults to make), they often know a lot more than their parents tell them (or want them to know). They frequently have thoughts, feelings and ideas which could help their parents (who are usually struggling with their own inner turmoil) to set aside recriminations and upsets with each other and to make better and more balanced decisions about arrangements for their children.
And so, a plea to parents:
Please start at an early stage by planning with your partner how you’re going to talk to your children about your separation and divorce. Don’t wait until you are both caught up in legal battles. Try and find sensible explanations about the “why” question rather than blame each other. Like adults, children need to “make sense” of the situation and be helped to adjust over time to the changes in their family world. They also need reassurance and a demonstration in practice that you are both still operating together in your parent role.
Share your thoughts about what the next stage will be – listen to them and incorporate some of the things which are important to them into a workable family plan, which places your children at the centre of your joint decision making, not in the middle of the two most significant people in their lives, you, their parents.
It’s often not easy to talk with your partner when you are going through separation and divorce. Children may well find it difficult to talk with one or both parents about how they feel. But there’s lots of help and support available for children and young people, for you their parents, separately or together.
But, whatever you do, please don’t be in the position where your children say in several years’ time “no one listened, no one asked me, I didn’t feel important”. “
At Family Law in Partnership we offer Parenting After Parting sessions to help parents place their children at the heart of their decision making during divorce and separation. Many of our clients find our counselling and family consultancy services particularly helpful and many use the collaborative approach to settle the matters between them and their partner. Our team of highly experienced mediators offer child inclusive mediation (direct child consultation) as part of our wider family support services.
Voices in the Middle is a useful website for young people and parents, written by young people for young people experiencing a divorce or separation in the family.
Ruth Smallacombe is a mediator and family consultant at Family Law in Partnership. She is a senior accredited mediator and counsellor, practice consultant and trainer of mediators, lawyers and therapists. She has over 30 years’ experience in family, mental health and human relations, both in the public and private sectors. Contact Ruth at E: firstname.lastname@example.org or T: 020 7420 5000.