Protecting children during separation

  Children playingGenerally, when parents separate, one of the most difficult aspects for them both is how to tell the children and how to make their separation as painless as possible for their children. There is obviously no good time for telling bad news and no ideal way of doing it.  It is going to vary tremendously according to the ages of the children and circumstances of the separation but equally, obviously, if the parents can be seen to be working together to ensure the best possible outcome for their children, that will help their children enormously. Most children will know long before they are told that there have been issues between the parents. Maybe there have been arguments or just a feeling of unease and lack of communication.  Most children, too, would prefer the arguments and unpleasantness to end and it may well be that if the parents are happier apart then so will the children.  The important thing to avoid is giving the children the impression that they have to take sides.  They want to be able to love both parents and both parents must allow them to love and have a good relationship with the other. As parents, we must try not to let our children see us upset when they go to the “other” parent.  They may feel guilty about spending time with one or other parent, if the other is left at home alone and sad. Most parents manage to work out some sort of practical arrangement so the children see both parents, the children know when they are to be at one or the other’s house and in time a new pattern and new relationships develop. As Susan Trussel, The Banbury Therapy, said in a recent article, the most important thing is that the children know they are loved by both parents and they don’t have to choose between them.  Working together will help to ensure the best possible outcome for your children and mediation is often a good place to start that process. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email

Managing Christmas as a divorced or separated parent

Although it is only November, as soon as the clocks go back it seems that everyone is trying to get us to focus on Christmas.  Christmas can be a great family time of year, an excuse to take some time to visit friends and family, but equally it can be a dreadful time of financial and emotional stress which can, for some families, be the final straw.  Or it can just be average:  most peoples’ Christmases are in fact just that - ok, nothing more nothing less.  But unfortunately the weeks of hype that lead up to Christmas encourage everyone to expect that Christmas should in some way be fantastic -  full of smiling parents and beautiful children, the perfect Granny and other relations in attendance, everyone with lavish and perfectly prepared food and great presents which everyone receives with beaming smiles.  Although we all know in reality it’s not like that, the marketing hype inevitably gets to us. 2 children at the windowSo, how can we manage Christmas better particularly if we do not happen to belong to the perfect family?  I think that what people are really short of, despite the recession meaning that people are also short of money, is time and that instead of spending hours shopping for loads of presents or even buying our children lots of things, we should actually propose a different sort of Christmas where spending time is more important than having presents.  Most adults have far too much stuff and I think that can be said of children too, although they might not so readily admit it. The message must be that if parents can work together in relation to the arrangements for the children, whether together or separate, it is in their best interests.  Try and manage everybody’s expectations so you do not end up being disappointed about the lack of perfection which is an artificial creation anyway.  Reality might actually be better. Some key points to focus on if you are separated: -
  • Agree which parent will have access to the children and when.
  • Allow the children to be able to fully relax and have a fun time with only one parent, without feeling disloyal or missing the other parent.
  • Avoid any competition between you about the provision of presents and stuff generally.  Is the parent with a better job or a new partner able to give the children a better time?  Don’t go there!
  • Think about how you deal with the fact that there may be sad memories of past Christmases when you were all together.
Of course Christmas is a difficult time of year for all families, particularly post separation.  Perhaps the following might help: -
  1. Perfect the essential art of enjoying the now - becoming a human being rather than a human doing.  Perfection is, as we have established, impossible so just enjoy what and who you have.
  2. Count to ten or take three deep breaths and relax before responding to a wind up from your nearest and dearest in whatever form  – text, or even Twitter, Facebook e.t.c.
  3. Try and make up your mind that you are going to have a good time this Christmas whatever the circumstances leading up to it and plan ahead.  Having a schedule in place for when the children will be with each partner if you are separated will ease their anxiety and help any transitions between parents.
  4. Try and let go and have fun!
For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email

Who looks after the children?

children walking through wheat fieldRecent statistics have revealed that not only in most families do both parents work, full or part time, but also more surprising the increasing number of families where the woman is the main breadwinner.  We should not be surprised though it should perhaps lead us to question some other perceptions about who is or should be looking after the children. When parents separate there is often a fear on the part of fathers that they will in some way “lose their children”, that if they go to Court the odds are stacked against them because the perception is that children always stay with their mothers. But Judges do actually live in the real world, they and all the Court staff are part of the working population where it is normal for both parents to be juggling work and childcare.  So when parents separate it is only logical that Courts will see that men and women may both work and both want to see their children.  We have plenty of female Judges who may have a stay at home partner looking after their children.  There really is no longer any automatic prejudice in favour of mothers except in the case of very small babies who may be physically dependant on their mother.  It still happens though that the person, often the mother, who has the major child caring role considers that contact is their gift to dispense with as they decide.  The Court's view is that what is most important is what is in the child’s best interests.  Not what either parent may want. If we focus on what is in the best interests of the children, it is of course that the parents should not go to Court, should not argue about childcare but should resolve their differences through negotiation and compromise.  This itself conveys valuable lessons to the children. Fathers are often very fearful about losing contact which can make them over aggressive, anxious that they will lose their children forever.  Perhaps if they were more reassured that the Court’s attitude is very much that children should spend time with both parents, a lot of the hostility could be avoided. Historically children were very much the man’s property and women had no rights at all on separation or divorce.  Then the approach was that children always stayed with their mother,  possibly we now have a more sensible view which looks at the practical realities of daily life, the needs of the children and the importance of avoiding conflict. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email

Kids back to school – time for a divorce?

children walking through wheat fieldWe've just had the best summer weather for a number of years and the chance to get out and spend time doing the things we enjoy during our holidays.  However back to school in September often heralds a rethink of people’s situation, getting round to those jobs that you left during the summer whilst the kids were at home and quite often that involves dealing with personal issues. There are always a lot of enquiries about divorce and separation in September and although the end of the holidays may be a catalyst to those enquiries, it is important to remember that your children will have to live with whatever arrangements you make. That might sound obvious but is often forgotten. When parents separate they will generally both want to be as fully involved with the children’s lives as they were before, sometimes that leads to conflict but what it should lead to is a commitment from both parents to ensure that they work together in some way despite the fact that they are separating. It is almost impossible for separation not to mean that both parties are financially worse off so it needs the whole family to work together to decide practical issues such as where is everybody going to live and how they are going to manage financially. The last thing you want is to add a hefty legal bill in to all the other extra costs. That can be avoided if, from the outset, you decide to try and collaborate during the divorce process. Your children will be understandably anxious about what is going to happen, assure them that through no fault of their own you are going to be living separately but that you both want the best for them and  ensure that there are no arguments in front of or about them. Parents should take it upon themselves to ensure that they don’t try and burden children with adult issues. In practice this means that if the kids are going to visit dad, mum needs to give them every encouragement to go; it doesn’t help if she looks sad about them going making them feel in some way disloyal to her or responsible for her being lonely without them. Mum needs to put a brave face on it whatever she might be feeling because these are not emotions children should have to bear. They want to see their mum and their dad. Similarly when they are at their dad’s they do not want to hear how rotten their mum is – they love their mum (and their dad). They want to be able to speak about one parent to the other without feeling guilty or disloyal or that they somehow can’t mention the other parent. Children need to be able to speak to and about both parents. Similarly adults need to be sensitive and responsible about their new relationships. It’s no good rushing into a relationship full of enthusiasm without considering the effect that it may have on your children if you bring in a ‘new’ mum or dad, or worse, new siblings! Kids these days are under a lot of pressure at school, keeping up with their friends. They need plenty of adult support, help and encouragement if their parents are separating. Often this extra support is needed just when those very adults are in the worst possible place to give it, when their life seems to be falling apart because of their separation. Perhaps then we should all be more willing to give practical and emotional support to anyone we know going through a divorce or separation – because it’s never easy. However people can actually get through a really difficult situation and move on to something better, learning from the experience and using that positively with their children and in new relationships. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email

A child’s dilemma

2 children at the windowI read a fascinating book called ‘The Science of Love and Betrayal’ by Robin Dunbar, all about why people fall in love, is there any scientific or logical reason for this, and does it actually help the development of the human race? It appears not, we do not actually need to fall in love to produce or even raise children, what women really need evidently is a supportive mother/grandmother figure and a few other friends.  As we can produce children without committing to a partner for life, why do we? It seems that humanity has always fallen in and out of love, formed close relationships and spent a good number of years together rearing infants. The book does not really explain why people fall in love or more importantly for my profession why people fall out of love. But they certainly do and it can cause immense pain for the parties and have a massive impact on the children. The child’s dilemma is that while their parents are falling out of love the children generally remain steadfastly in love with both parents. This situation was illustrated for me by a passage in a book where a boy is describing his father leaving his mother. His father had to come back for some items out of the shed a week later. The boy saw that his car was parked by the shed and his mother ran out to try and stop or shout at his dad. The boy positioned himself by the tailgate of the car hoping that his father would think that he was there to help him and his mother would think that he was there to stop his father leaving. To me this summed up the child’s dilemma, the impossible position children are placed in when parents separate. They love both parents, are loyal to both parents and so do not know how to behave. Parents have got to accept that the children do love both parents and so are caught in a dilemma when they separate. They may feel sorry for one parent or that their feelings of love for the other parent are somehow “wrong”. Both parents need to be aware of this and need to reassure the children that it is perfectly ok for them to love and talk about the other parent. Both parents need to allow the children to speak about the other parent in positive terms and to talk through these dilemmas. They need to know that the separation is not their fault and that they are “allowed” to show affection to both parents in either’s presence. Caught in the middle? Parents also need to consider the example they are setting to their children about relationships and how to treat one another; scenes of angry or messy relationships can have lasting detrimental effects upon a child’s outlook of such situations and may result in damaging the child’s future relationships. So falling in and out of love is what we do – we just need to be mindful of the children in the middle. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email