So – we’ve had some “big events” in our family over the last month or so – at least, from my perspective they were big. And each event has caused me to pause and reflect on how challenging separation is for the whole family, particularly when that separation is permanent, not simply a weekend apart.
- I had my first ever business trip away.
- Our son transitioned from the toddler centre to the ELC.
Aside from the three nights and mornings I could lay still without one (or three) small human(s) climbing over me… My work trip was simply wonderful (I would have included uninterrupted sleep, however it turns out I am now conditioned to waking up several times a night).
Not only was it the first time I have ever been away from my children, it was a chance to connect with and learn from some other family law professionals from across the country and improve my skills as a divorce lawyer.
I learned so much to strengthen my commitment to helping families who have separated do so in a way that is respectful and dignified and (hopefully) causes the least amount of financial and emotional damage to the whole family – so that you can all look to your future in a positive way. Your former spouse included.
So.. about my business trip, you ask? Let’s talk about the departure!
You may have heard me speak about my family life before – my husband was a FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) worker for many years, including three of our oldest child’s first four years. It was a choice we made to be a FIFO family, every single day – and it taught us so much about ourselves, our relationship and communication. It wasn’t a life I had ever imagined having and it was challenging.. so very challenging. But there it was. A choice. Our choice.
Anyway – almost every fly-out day, we would all bundle into the car and hang out at the airport for a few hours before Luke’s flight took off – I relished my last opportunity to sit still for four weeks and drink my last hot coffee for that month while Luke enjoyed the last few minutes of playing silly games with the kids.
Luke’s departure was mostly uneventful – the kids were used to it. Luke and I were calm as we waved goodbye and then as daddy walked down the aero-bridge to board the plane, we waved goodbye. Mostly, we waited until the plane took off before going home. And in all, it was pretty uneventful.
Fast forward to my trip. And oh my golly – what a difference! We thought it would be great for the kids to wave goodbye to me at the airport.. and you know, see mummy go off to do the work she loves. We followed the same routine we had used when Luke flew out – except he relished his last few minutes to sit still and.. hot coffee!
At least in terms of how they responded as I walked through the departure gate – we were so wrong! It seems my children don’t love mummy working on a plane. They were fine a few minutes after I was out of sight. That initial separation was really tough on me. I cried on the plane.
We may put this down to some kind of rooky error.
Looking for the silver linings – one of the great things when I was away was the photos I got of the everyday stuff they were doing and the very short phone calls at night to say hi – and by short, I mean perhaps barely a minute and mostly spent asking questions and getting short answers, but goodness it was sweet hearing those voices.
It made me think – imagine if my family wasn’t in tact, and our relationship was so bad that I wasn’t told a few minutes after we went our separate ways that the kids were fine. Imagine if I didn’t get to speak to my kids that night or the next day to say hello. And imagine if I had been separated from them for a week or more with no contact or photos.
It would be so hard.
Being separated from your kids is really tough.
And maybe it affects one parent more than the other.
Maybe one parent is more emotional than the other or has had a different parenting experience.
And maybe the kids respond differently to being separated from one parent more than the other.
It doesn’t mean they love one parent more. It just means their attachment is different.
And by acknowledging and respecting, and accepting there are differences, I really believe you will be helping your children continue to form strong relationships with you both, which can only be a great thing for their future.
There is no “one size fits all” answer in family law.
Even when you have separated from your spouse, if you have kids – there is a certain level of compromise and ongoing commitment as parents required. And trust. And it won’t always be easy – especially when that trust you had as a couple is damaged or broken in separation.
But you need to trust that the other parent of those little humans you created together will take good care of your children.
How that time is spent may be different to the way you spend time with your kids. Meals may be different. There may be more or less television or outdoor time than you would like. There may be more or less vegetables on the dinner plate than you would prefer.
But here’s the thing, we are all doing the best we can with what we have. And as different as we all are, so are our parenting styles.
It is unlikely that you agreed on all aspects of parenting during your relationship, and it’s just as likely you won’t always be in agreement post-separation.
So – here are 5 things I can suggest to help you all settle into this newly defined family life you have:
- If transition can be tricky for the children – is it possible to spend a few minutes talking about “stuff” at transition rather than doing the high speed car swap in the car-park? Or perhaps there’s another way to transition the kids between homes (pick-up from school or childcare?)
- Either way, can you send a short message to the other parent after pick up to let them know the kids are okay and settled in (bonus points for a photo of happy/settled kids doing stuff).
- Send photos of the kids to each other – you don’t necessarily need to include a message – and those kinds of messages can help with phone calls. And most likely, you are sending pictures of your kids to your friends and family – it’s not that difficult to add your former spouse to the list.
- Don’t set high expectations for long telephone calls with your children – no matter how old your kids are. Sometimes, they just don’t want to speak or you call when they are in the middle of a game or tv show. Try not to immediately assume the other parent is influencing the short, distracted or lack of communication from your kids. They are kids, after all.
- Repeat all these things when they kids are with you.
If you have any tips and suggestions for what has worked for you and your family, please tell me – I would love to know, and perhaps it’s a suggestion I can provide to another family in the future.
As for my son transitioning from the toddler centre to the ELC.. that’s a story for another day.
**These suggestions are only suggestions. And as I said, there is no one size fits all solution to families.
**These suggestions are unlikely to work in families where there is high conflict between parents or a history of family violence and so my suggestions have been written for low-conflict families where there is some constructive and effective communication possible between former spouses.
Megan Sweetlove is a divorce lawyer and the owner of Sweetlove Family Law. Megan has worked with families who are experiencing separation and divorce for the past 10 years and is committed to assisting her clients find respectful outcomes to their separation, away from the Court process and with a focus on having a healthy future.
If you or someone you know needs assistance during divorce you can organise a complimentary 20 minute phone appointment with Megan here.
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