Parental Emotional Health

Working Together As Parents

There are around 3.9 million children growing up in the UK with separated parents. It is not uncommon. Children can cope really well with this arrangement if they are not caught up in ongoing arguments and unhealthy relationships between their parents. The separation can be a relief to everyone if things had been difficult before the separation.

Ideally children should be able spend time with both of their parents. When parents are able to continue to work together to support their child and make positive decisions that affect their lives, children can continue to thrive. If at all possible children value both parents being able to come to school events and share in their good and bad moments. A reliable routine of when children will see each parent help them stay connected and feel secure.

This is not always the case - some parents continue to struggle to be around each other and feel angry and upset about how the relationship ended. There may be financial and practical issues that make it hard. The relationship may have been abusive and not safe for your child to be around. Some parents do not choose to continue to see their children, and some parents make it difficult for the other to do so. In these situations children will find it much harder to cope and may feel ‘stuck in the middle’.

Dive Deeper

Planned Shared Parenting

If you plan to have a baby together whilst not in a relationship, take the opportunity to talk about your views and ideas on how you want to raise your child.

    • Discuss your own childhoods together – what would you like to do the same? What do you want to do differently?
    • Talk about how you will support each other to build a bond with your baby. How will you make sure you help each other rest?
    • Talk about the practicalities of contact, money, housing and changes that might happen in the future. How will you cope with disagreements?
    • Agree to regular catch ups to make sure the arrangement is working and you are both working together for your child.

 Blended (Step) Families

Your new partner may also have children. Families come in all shapes and sizes and the ‘joining up’ of family units is very common. If parents are sensitive to the needs of their children this can be a positive experience.

    • It is important to give a relationship time to be sure that you feel this is likely to be a lasting relationship before introducing children to a new partner.
    • Start slowly.
    • Relate have some good advice on managing the challenges of a blended/step family.
    • Discuss beforehand how you will manage any misbehaviour or disagreements between children. It is important that this is done fairly and children do not feel that there is ‘favouritism’.

Separation or Divorce

Separation may involve bad feelings between parents. If you are unable to reach an agreement as parents, family mediation can really help you both. Unresolved parental conflict can be picked up by children which can make them confused and unhappy. Sometimes children can even blame themselves for the break-up.

To support children during a separation and help them with their worries, you should;

  • Remind them that they're loved by both parents.
  • Be honest when talking about the separation or divorce but keep in mind the child's age and understanding. They don't need to hear all the details or of any potential wrongdoing. 
  • Avoid blame and don't share any bad feelings that you have about each other with your children.
  • Keep up routines such as going to school and specific meal times.
  • Let them know they can talk about their feelings with you – explain that it's okay to be sad, confused or angry.
  • Listen more than you speak – answering questions will help them to open up.

Parental Conflict

Whilst every relationship goes through difficult times, if children are around arguments and conflict regularly it is harmful to them. 

Children who are around conflict, notice it. Even if they seem too little, or are in bed, or in another room they will know. Children are very tuned in to the world around them. They can be scared and worried when their parents aren’t getting on.

Try Relate’s Argument Check Up. See how you and your partner can improve the way you discuss things.

If the arguments carry on, counselling support can make a difference. You can go together or separately. It can give you time and space to work out how to improve your relationship. You might decide the relationship is over. Relationship counsellors can help you manage this as well as possible for you and your children.

Find out more about parental conflict

Parental Wellbeing

Having parents who are looking after their own wellbeing during difficult times will make a difference how children manage their own feelings. You are not alone in how you are feeling. 

Read more about parental wellbeing

Family Mediation

Family mediation is like having a helpful guide when parents are having a tough time making decisions, especially if they're going through a separation or divorce. Think of it as a support system that makes things a bit easier to understand.

Here's the lowdown:

  1. It starts with just you and the mediator: The first meeting will just be with you and the mediator; the mediator will make sure you have the right support and know what options are best for you and your children.
  2. Keeping Things Civil: Mediators make sure that when parents talk, it's in a calm and respectful way. They're like peacekeepers, helping everyone communicate better.
  3. Putting Children First: Mediators remind parents that the focus is on the kids. They help figure out important things like where the kids will live and how much time they spend with each parent.
  4. Teamwork Tactics: Family mediation encourages parents to work together like a team, even if they're not a couple anymore. It's like having a game plan for parenting, and the mediator shares tips on being a good parenting team.
  5. Sorting Emotions: Sometimes, adults go through tough feelings during a separation. Mediators let them talk about their emotions and help them find ways to feel better so they can be the best parents possible.
  6. Creating a Plan: If mediation is successful, you leave the process, though you can go back if you have more decisions to make, with a parenting plan or document that both parents have agreed to.  

Depending on your income mediation may be free with Legal Aid or government vouchers.

And here's the big deal: Family mediation is usually the first step for most couples. It's like a starting point before things get all serious and they have to go to court to settle their disagreements. So, it's like giving everyone a chance to work things out calmly and together before it gets more complicated.

The Family Mediation Trust

Who Can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of the Healthy Child Programme team.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.

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