These are really challenging times for so many families right now! Here’s some helpful info about dealing with Coronavirus.
- Parents and Children- Understanding the Coronavirus
- Cafcass Covid19 advice for Familes
- MENCAP EasyRead Info about Covid19
Keep Calm and Carry on Parenting
(guest blog by Sarah Jane Lenihan, Family Lawyer and Partner at Stowe Family Law, London Victoria.
Easier said than done, I know, BUT keeping calm is going to be the best way to come out of this worldwide pandemic in a positive way for your children.
The Government was very clear in its updated ‘Staying at home and away from others (social distancing) guidance’ on 29th March 2020 that stated: ‘Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 CAN be moved between their parents’ homes.’
You will note I have highlighted the word ‘can’ and this is because it is key as it does not say must. What both parents must do is act in the best interests of the child and in this current pandemic the best interests of any other vulnerable members of the household.
Communication is key
The reality is parents, separated or not, in the current, COVID-19 outbreak may have different opinions on risk.
Where parents have separated, these conflicts can become destructive. It is important that parents discuss how issues arising in this current situation should be dealt with together.
The key to all of this is communication. If you have a current arrangement, whether this is an informal agreement or a court order for child arrangements and you believe that it cannot continue, if possible, discuss this with your ex-partner. In today’s times, this is best via the telephone/email/text message or video call. You should ensure that your communication is clear, honest and considers how the other person will feel.
If you feel unable to communicate directly with your ex-partner, choose a trusted 3rd party, whether this is a friend/family member or a professional such as a mediator or a solicitor.
Mediation and solicitor appointments can still take place by video conferencing.
What if there is a Court Order in place?
It is important to note that parents can agree on a variation to an order. This does not have to be approved by the court, but if this is something you do, it is advisable to have this in writing between you, even if via a text message.
What are the alternatives to direct contact?
If there is a reason why direct contact cannot take place, try to be creative for the sake of you both and the child.
It does not just have to be a telephone call, with modern technology you can have a video call which could include reading stories, watching a film together, baking (if you can get hold of any flour!), singing, quizzes, puzzles, homework or even performing a show together.
If the contact must be missed, what can be done?
If a child or member of the household is unwell and contact must be missed, why not consider proposals to make up this time with many children not at school, more flexible arrangements can be agreed.
What can I do if my contact is stopped?
If you are prevented from seeing your child, I remind you again to communicate with the other parent to try to resolve the dispute between yourselves.
If you do not believe there is a justified reason to stopping contact, you should consider inviting the other parent to mediation (via video conferencing) to discuss with an independent 3rd party, taking advice from a solicitor or as a last resort, a court application.
If you are the person stopping contact, although it is unlikely the matter will be brought before the court urgently, the court has made it clear they will be reviewing these cases.
If you are unable to justify why contact was stopped, there may be consequences, never mind the impact this will have on your children.
It is therefore important that if you are making the decision to stop contact, you take legal advice and keep a copy of correspondence informing the other party of your reasons why.
My experience as a family lawyer
I am pleased to say that my experience so far working with separated parents is that they have been able to put their differences aside and work together to find a resolution in the best interests of the child and family.
Do not forget
Your child is likely (like we all are) to be feeling anxious in this unprecedented time and therefore having a routine and a good relationship with the other parent is likely to assist them, if they will be safe.
Therefore, do keep calm & carry on parenting and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details below. I would be happy to help you and your family through this difficult time.
Sarah Jane Lenihan, Family Lawyer and Partner at London Victoria Office at Stowe Family Law. Contact by phone on 07711 000992 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Breaking Up is Hard To Do
Whether we’re separating, divorcing or engaged in the process of ‘consciously uncoupling’, many of us (over 50% in fact) are experiencing the trauma and effects of a partnership relationship breakdown these days. And if you have children, the end of your intimate, couple, co-parenting relationship can often feel like ‘splitting up’ means ‘splitting you’ and you may notice that your children just can’t seem to get enough of you. So why do you feel so ‘halved’?
Well, firstly, you’re literally no longer one half of a ‘double act’–you’re now a single parent – and that feels different emotionally. When we’re in love and together, we adopt or absorb parts of the person we love. It’s no wonder people use the term “other half”to describe their partner. So, of course, when we break up, we do feel diminished and possibly halved. It’s as if we have lost parts of ourselves and feels like something is now missing.
Secondly, whenever we lose something or someone precious to us (our relationship), we begin to experience a whole range of ‘loss-cycle’emotions that feel like being thrust on some awful, uncontrollable roller coaster, with it’s dramatic and confusing ups and downs. This cycle is a necessary human journey, helping us process the change. And while we all experience the journey in our own unique way, there will be times, as you recover from your separation, when you may feel overwhelmed by the different stages of grieving the loss i.e. sadness, anger guilt, depression, etc.
Your children experience these emotions too! So you will notice that now, more than ever, they depend on to be your ‘whole, strong self’- especially when they have to adjust to being with only one of you at a time. They suddenly find they are always missing one parent. It’s easy to see why they may also find it hard to share you with their siblings. So if you are able to set aside special time with each child, they will really appreciate this and you will be able to enjoy them more –instead of feeling like you are being stretched or pulled in different directions.
Great advice to parents from young adults about dealing with divorce
How To Create a ‘Safe Roof’ Effect for Your Children
How is it possible to work together as parents when it seems you disagree on everything? When you are both so wound up by the personal conflict that this can often be ‘played out’ in front of your child. Remember, children can be very astute and pretty clever at figuring out how to get what they want! They can be especially good at achieving this when they observe that you don’t speak or see each other. This in itself is not necessarily bad, (particularly when there is high conflict) however, you don’t want them to be keeping secrets or lying to both of you and potentially finding themselves in an unsafe situation.
The beauty of being a parent is that you want to pass on all the good stuff you were given to your children. Often, in the process of divorcing or separating we lose touch with ourselves, no longer recognising our skills and strengths as parents. We’re no longer able to celebrate our children together, which can lead to an extremely sad and fragmented family situation. Opportunities to share the good moments and our children’s achievements are very rare when separated.
It’s easy to compare and criticise each other’s parenting styles more then ever when separated, especially when we really don’t see eye to eye. The love ‘glue’ that was once applied to heal and patch up your differences or help you find a compromise has dissolved. So how do you find a way to work together when the foundation you once built up has collapsed?
Some see this as an opportunity to finally bring up their child as they see fit and even more reason to have their own unique parenting style. Whilst this is perfectly fine, it’s best to agree on and stick to at least 3 core values that you both want for your child – such as manners, boundaries, swearing, mealtimes, etc. The rest can be flexible, allowing each of you to enjoy your time with your child, demonstrating your individual styles of parenting whilst still respecting each other’s skill set. Remember, difference is good and offers more opportunities for your child!
Your children need to know they have a ‘safe roof’ over their heads. Not only a literal one but a metaphorical one provided by you both.
Is My Ex-Partner My Enemy?
Having had a bad experience with an ex-partner can leave such a suspicious imprint that it’s hard not to hold a dim view of them once you separate. Having proven so unsuitable as a partner, it’s all too easy to convince yourself that they must be a lousy parent too.
Questioning and reflecting back on the relationship, you may have felt frustrated by their ‘lack of presence’ when you were together but have noticed that since your separation your ex is suddenly laying claim to being ‘parent of the year’. Or they appear to be doing all the things you wished you could have done together as a couple and as a family. Now suddenly they want ‘more time’ with your child compared to when you were a couple and they were far too busy working. And just when you were hoping to keep the contact to a minimum after separation – now they are taking you to court over it!
But let’s say your couple relationship was simply not working well and the other parent was not at their best – and possibly neither were you. Then, of course, any changes in their behaviour may now seem highly suspicious. However, the chances are that your negative views of your ex will seriously skew your aspirations for your child as you are likely to react towards them with a lack of confidence or belief in their parenting skills or disregard them by literally not wanting to discuss parenting issues or even think about them.
There is bound to be an overlapping of co-parenting issues that affect your child’s relationship with their other parent. Also your difference in parenting styles will become more obvious and you may perceive this as an irritant or obstacle to your newfound solo parenting style, believing “it’s better not to have to deal with them or have them around – it’s far too much bother!”
Sometimes separation can change someone. They may not be the same person you once knew. Most parents want to be the best possible parent they can be for their child. Of course they may not live up to your ‘standards’ and there are going to be times when your child comes back exhausted and cranky from spending time with the other parent. This does not necessarily mean that your child is not in safe hands.
A child experiencing divorce or separation can be both emotionally and physically tired moving between different homes and adapting to different parenting styles. There is a period of re-adjustment for them – just as there will be for you. Getting used to being without your child and missing them is very hard and ultimately avoiding any contact with the other parent is highly unlikely.
Some parents are eager to find fault in the other parent, contributing to persistent negative profiling and intent on building a ‘case’ against them, claiming that everything they do is ‘in the child’s best interest’. Behaving this way helps vindicate and reinforce reasoning behind separation.
Your child has a legal right to see both parents and confusing your intimate couple relationship with your ex’s parenting skills could be seen as depriving them of that right. Denying your child a meaningful relationship with their other parent is an active criticism. And honestly assessing the difference between your wishes or those of your child can be a tricky conundrum to disentangle, especially when your child is probably telling you exactly what you want to hear. Sometimes seeking professional support can help you achieve a more neutral stance and filter out the emotions from the situation.
Unless there are safeguarding issues and concerns over child contact arrangements, your child has more rights than you do as a parent. The term ‘parental responsibility’ focuses on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over their child. Ask yourself if you are really doing the right thing for your child. As tempting as it may be to overrule your child’s right to see their other parent and to overtly or subtly criticise your ex, it is ultimately up to your child to decide what they think of each parent and they will be the judge of how well you each fared as separated parents.
How Playing The ‘Blame Game’ Undermines Your Co-Parenting
As a separated parent, playing the ‘blame game’ may seem fairly satisfying in the short term but over time it surreptitiously undermines your parenting, negating and eroding the other parent in the process. Sadly, this is a typical behaviour observed during separation as the need to blame is very much a part of the initial stages of grief and fury. It can feel good to blame the other parent, absolving ourselves of guilt. And there are only so many painful emotions one can cope with when breaking up feels so dramatic and awful.
But by continually playing the ‘blame game’ we maintain our fixed position and remain ‘stuck’ in avoiding vital and necessary change. “It’s all his/her fault” we keep telling ourselves and feel justified in adopting this ‘easier’ stance where no shift or compromise (or healthy self-analysis!) can take place. But if we’re unable to be truly honest about assessing our own roles, examining our own behaviour and looking within ourselves, how can we determine how to change and learn from past incidents? We risk the situation becoming even more ‘inflamed’ to a point that will disable us, like a type of paralysis. Deeply entrenched and stuck in a ‘blaming’ rut, no progress or forward motion can ever truly be made.
Parents who get caught up in continually blaming each other are actually negating their own individual parenting prowess, robbing themselves of their strengths and qualities as parents. By spending so much energy focusing on one another’s mistakes, an impasse is quickly reached. At this point your children will probably feel hopelessly lost or overlooked. The end result is two negated parents creating a severe emotional deficit for their children at a time when children need to observe their parents being stronger than ever. Both parents need to conserve all their individual energy so they can focus on bringing up their children – an even more difficult task than usual!
Taking stock of oneself and learning to regulate our actions and reactions is far more rewarding and the results far more tangible. One can see the progress from within. Negative profiling the other parent; viewing them with an ever-critical eye; plotting their demise and obsessing over what they are doing with ‘your child’ ultimately only detracts from you as a parent.
The time and effort wasted obsessing and generating negative energy and blame results in loss of time spent enjoying your child. It’s only in building on the foundations of their childhood that we can continue creating lovely moments and memories for them.
It takes time to recover from the separation experience (especially if entrenched in court legalities) so if you continue to find yourself on this negative trajectory it’s time to explore alternative options and seek support.
Try to have more fun with your children. Stop looking at those court papers or taking note of all the times the other parent slips up. Or building a case to present in court about ‘what an awful parent they are’. Take the time to enjoy yourself and your child, to take a healthy control and reap the rewards of your decisive actions to move forward in seeking a fruitful co-parenting future.
Of course, it takes time to recover from a separation experience (especially if entrenched in family court legalities) so if you continue to find yourself on this negative trajectory after more than a couple of years, maybe it’s time to explore alternative options and other kinds of support.
Try to have more fun with your children. Stop looking at those court papers or taking note of all the times the other parent is late for weekend pick ups, or making a case for your solicitor to present in court about ‘what an awful parent they are’. It’s time to enjoy yourself and your child, to take a healthy control and reap the rewards of your decisive actions to move forward in seeking a fruitful co-parenting future.
Resolving Parental Disputes in Family Courts: Fact or Fiction?
Is it realistic for parents to expect our judicial system to offer meaningful help and support for families who are experiencing the distress of divorce/separation? Separating parents need to recognise and appreciate that in bringing family matters before the Courts, they are, in essence, relinquishing ‘control’ of their family’s future and thereby reducing their capacity to resolve their own parental issues. By handing over parental ‘power’ to a judicial system that is combative in style, the risk is, that the court process may only serve to aggravate, and often escalate, the conflict.
It is not surprising then that Courts cannot always be expected to come to the rescue of a family who are shipwrecked out on an ‘emotional sea’. Judges are often required to make monumental decisions for families, sometimes having only just met the parents briefly and in most cases, never even having met the children. How can family court judges be expected to satisfy the detailed requirements of a family whose lives they have no knowledge of? The impossible position of the Court creates a “nobody wins” atmosphere, which does little to encourage positive & effective co-parenting and can only generate more resentment.
In an attempt to discredit each other as parents, former partners often ‘paint’ an entirely disapproving, negative and harmful profile of one other. This kind of damaging ‘tactic’ usually only serves to encourage suspicion and mistrust. It’s a destructive approach to dealing with an already very fragile system that can only be likened to taking a sledgehammer to an already shattered glass flower. So how can this create a positive basis on which to build a future co-parenting model when parents who are emotionally raw from separation end up thrashing it out in the Courts?
Whilst it is both recommended and essential to fully understand your legal rights and entitlements, parents should bear in mind that solicitors fight solely for their clients. In this respect any legal advice you receive does not necessarily take into account the needs of the whole family. For this reason it’s important to think carefully before entering a system that may create further resentment, leaving you mentally exhausted, financially depleted and emotionally battered.
The Courts can be very effective but cannot be the ‘fixer’ of all problems. Family situations and dynamics vary so greatly these days and everyone’s situation is unique. By diminishing your own decision-making capacity as parents and blaming each other, you could find yourself unpleasantly surprised at the outcome.
Impossible Diplomacy: Children Trying To Please Both Parents
Children and young people are frequently seen as ‘people-pleasing’ when their parents are separated. Trying their best to oblige both of their conflicting parents, theykeep changing their ‘colours’ like perfect little ‘chameleons’. All too often they will be saying what they think you want to hear or acting in ways that may find ‘favour’ with each of you. But at what cost to them?
Some are striving hard to satisfy both parents who may be at totally opposite ends of the opinion spectrum. This kind of ‘impossible diplomacy’ can make the young person feel or think they are failing by letting someone down pretty much all the time. By pleasing one parent they feel they will inevitably upset the other!
So their self-esteem drops dramatically as they get very confused and quickly lose their self-awareness. They may struggle to develop and mature inadolescence and in later life, always burying their thoughts, feelings and desires in case it appears they are taking sides with one person or parent. It’s common for these young people to either grow up prematurely into ’pseudo-adults’, sometimes morphing into either parent, or to regress and revert to childhood.
Their behaviour can also change dramatically from one extreme to the next. There is often a lack of equilibrium as they swing from one parent to the other, or try to find strategies to address the next issue or event that needs mediating.
And so, suffocating who they really are, they try to master this impossible diplomacy in order to control the situation in their lives, a behaviour that is most likely to end in an uncontrolled outburst of anger or anxiety. The ‘real self’ has to come out at some point – along with all their frustrations and other tensions too! This may come as a surprise to you when your child has been quietly ‘under the radar’ and then suddenly erupts for no apparent reason. Actually, it’s a bit like a dam holding back the flood of strong emotions that suddenly reaches breaking point and bursts open.
‘Chameleon’ children are very good at blending in and will reflect back what their parents or peers want so as to avoid being left out or not accepted. Although it’s good for them to be adaptable it can be too big a strain if taken to extreme.
Explaining Adult & Parental Love: Lots of Kinds of Love (a letter to your child)
Maybe you’re feeling a bit confused about all the different kinds of love – especially since your parents have told you they are going to separate (or already have).
Your parents used to be “in love” but they’re not any more. This probably makes you think that their love for others can change as well? You might also be thinking that love is measured in quantities and might run out? Maybe that’s what happened with your parents?
Although love between adults can change, it’s very important for you to know that ‘parental love’ for children neverruns out! This kind of love is called an unconditional love. This means that whatever happens between your parents – now, and even in the future – both of them will continue to love YOU.
You may even have noticed that the situation between them has got quite messy. And perhaps you might not have seen so much of one of your parents lately. Again, this doesn’t mean their love for YOU has changed in any way! They may be really busy sorting out things for you and working out all the tricky practicalities for your ‘new life’ with them.
You may also find it quite confusing if one of your parents has met someone new. You might even worry that this new person in your Mum or Dad’s life could start taking away some of your‘share’ of their love. You may notice some signs of their behaviour changing again. Keep trying to remember that this does not mean their love for YOU has changed in any way!
And if the new special person in your Mum or Dad’s life also has children, it doesn’t mean that they will divide or share their love for YOU. Even if they spend more time with this new person and their child, it doesn’t take away any of their love from your ‘love tank’.
Love is not based on the amount of time we spend with someone even though it’s really good to be able to spend as much time as possible with all the people we love.
Remember – your parents’ love for YOU is always there and always will be.