Successful Separation – Always Putting The Children First. Part 1
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I work with many parents going through separation, divorce or troubled times as I run a 6 week Coaching Programme called “Successful Separation“ and one of the areas I help parents explore first is the very important area of Communication.
The way parents exchanged information, shared their emotions or made joint decisions in the past may have led to some negative patterns emerging that were destructive, and they need to be recognised and acknowledged so that those destructive patterns are not carried forward into the new co –parenting roles that parents find themselves in otherwise children’s lives may be destroyed, damaged or shattered by conflict and division.
So I help the parents that I work with examine what kind of communicator they are.
Generally speaking there are three ways in which people communicate, particularly under pressure.
Characteristically this way of communicating is often demanding and is not open, or willing, to look at the other person’s point of view, and these parents are usually rather aggressive, confrontational and hostile in their approach.
This way of communicating usually manifests itself by the person’s inability to articulate their own needs and wants, and may find this parent putting the other person’s wishes above their own. They feel that they don’t have the “right” to ask for the things they want.
This way of communicating involves the parent identifying their needs and wants very clearly and these parents expect their needs to be met without being overtly demanding, angry or by using deception. The parent who uses this way of communicating comes across as reasonable, mature and open to finding solutions.
Some of the common problems I come across when I am coaching couples together is when one parent is passive and one parent is aggressive – as it sometimes appears that there are winners and losers while we are working through the process of what they both want. At this point I often recommend separate sessions to help each parent find clarity, direction and confidence in their own next steps forward.
If both parents are aggressive it often feels like a battle is being fought as neither will back down, concede or make compromises so again I find it helpful to coach each parent separately.
If both parents are passive – then there is chaos and confusion as no one makes a stand and moves the process forward and the children often feel stuck in the middle of the stalemate which damages their self esteem.
Some of the key questions I get parents to focus on are…..
- What messages are your children receiving from your style of communicating?
- What lessons are they learning from the often destructive and negative ways you are communicating as their role model?
- What memories are you creating for them about this time of change and transition?
My intention is to help shift the focus from one of confrontation to one of working for the highest good of all, particularly their children.
Have you ever laughed when you felt like crying?
Have you ever shown anger when you felt guilty?
Have you ever quipped or joked when you felt afraid?
Well these are known as masking techniques and for constructive, open and honest communication to take place and co – parenting to succeed effectively, I help parents find better ways to be more honest, open and authentic in their emotions, without masking their true feelings.
Most people are not mind readers and parents going though divorce are not usually in a good space to second guess the other person’s true feelings. Parents going through this process have to learn to be clear, honest and to state their thoughts, feelings and emotions openly and specifically.
It’s not always easy.
It’s not always quick.
But it is always worth it.
Learning ways to be assertive – not aggressive – can help everyone feel more in control of their situation, more empowered and less scared of the future.
The key thing I help parents remember is that it’s not what they say, but HOW they say it that really matters, as communication is all about tone of voice, body language and intention.
I also encourage the parents I work with to use the “I” instead of “you” way of speaking as it is less confrontational. For example:
“I would rather see the children at 3.30 on Saturdays” rather than “You never let me see the kids on Saturday afternoons.”
I also show parents how to be very specific, and to steer away from generalisations, as this is a much more effective way to have their needs met.
And most importantly I show them how important it is to WAIT to speak and to allow the other person to finish what they were saying before interrupting.
Being able to be magnanimous, and to be able to put aside their own personal feelings in order to find the best way forward for everyone, is not easy, but with determination and patience and a willingness to put the children first, parents going through this change and transition handle meetings more positively.
My message and passion is that no matter how traumatic, stressful or disastrous your family separation may feel, it is not the separation that will damage your children but the way you both decide and choose to handle it.
For more information about my “Successful Separation 6 Week Coaching Programme” call me on +44 1342 833355 for a completely confidential, non judgemental initial conversation as I am just at the end of a phone.
Click here for my other article on “Navigating Divorce Positively”
Click here for my other article “Putting the Children First”