Separation complicates back to school challenges

  • Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dear Liz,
We went through a separation over the summer, and this is the first time the children (ages 7, 9 and 12) are going back to school with all of the changes. Their father and I still live in Mount Pleasant, and we have worked out a fairly good plan for each of us to have time with the children and support their activities as usual. But, I see more anxiety, especially in our 9-year-old daughter - and more apathy in our 12-year-old son. Suggestions?
Dear 'Sadly-Split,'
So sorry. Good for you and the children's father to keep as much continuity as possible. Regardless - this is devastating to children whether they admit it or not. (And to the whole family, including grandparents.) So I commend you for doing all you can, to be there (together, smiling) for their activities and being generous and flexible with time with each of you. A few suggestions: 1. Always keep the children out of the adult issues and conflicts - regardless of how ‘mature' they may seem or be. It is vital, however, for the children to know what their schedules are. We want the children to know it is okay to love both of their parents, that they are not to blame, that confusing feelings about all this is normal and that they are not going to lose anyone as a result.
2. Have a matching set of rules, expectations, consequences and rewards at each household. The more similar the plan, the more secure the children.
When parents remain a unified front the better it is for the mental health and well-being of the children now and in the future.
This is a huge challenge. But you can do it. I believe routines (bedtimes, etc.) should be as close as possible at each household. When one parent is more 'slack' or being too flexible (out of guilt or wanting to be the ‘good' or ‘fun' parent) - the more it splits the kids - and teaches them to play one parents against the other.
3. Make sure both parents know the children's schedules and special events at school and activities.
4. Seek professional help and support - make sure the guidance counselors at all schools know your situation; seek private counseling immediately if there are significant changes in school performance, attitude or choice or friends, signs of anxiety and or depression and to resolve conflicts between you and your ex immediately. Your 12-year-old may just be doing the 'adolescent' thing (hormones and such). He may feel pressure to take on the 'man of the house' role (no) or may be depressed.
Keep the kids talking about their feelings. Make sure no one is judged for their feelings, only supported. I would be remiss to not suggest exploring if there is any chance for reconciliation. I am blessed to see miracles in my office everyday.
You will feel better long-term when you are both sure you have done everything you possibly can. Hoping for the best!
(Contact Liz at asksharpliz@gmail.com).

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