The Family ‘Solar System’: The Emotional Impact of Separation on Children 

The realisation that parents are no longer together can feel pretty devastating for children. It’s like tectonic plates shifting and experiencing the effects of an earthquake. But as with all dramatic change it is how we support ourselves that is indicative of how well we recover. The more we nurture and take care of ourselves, the better and quicker we will heal and move forward into acceptance. Children and young people are incredibly adaptable, robust and resilient if given sufficient support.

With all the emotional losses and endings, just as in experiencing a death, this series of unexpected and unwanted dramatic changes can make us feel like our entire solar system has been thrown into turmoil. Sometimes losing a parent might feel like our sun or moon has disappeared as it’s true to say that parents are the planets that children revolve around. And they certainly want to be seen as the centre of your universe!

Whenever there is gravitational discord between two parents, children are the first ones to pick up on these signals, just as tiny bees feel vibration through their finely- tuned antennae, children can feel confused, disorientated and express discomfort.

Their reference points are quickly out of sync. Similarly, when parents separate, it feels like one planet (or both) has been eclipsed for a while but hopefully, not for too long, whilst you work out the practicalities, support and recover yourselves and begin your own healing process too. Our gravitational pull will go awry for a while until we have mourned, grieved and healed and it can take a while for our (solar) family system to find a new dynamic.

Through all of this, you and your children will be feeling incredibly ‘raw’ – like being severely sunburned out in the desert.  And yet you have to seem to be functioning normally when all of this has happened. It’s hard to muddle along when you are feeling so sore and sensitive and many other relationships will be put under strain when you’re not feeling like ‘yourself’. Trying to grip onto some sense of normality when your usual references are no longer the same takes time to adjust and adapt.