You love your kids. You want to do your best for them. But when you're struggling with big changes in your own life, you wonder how you can.
When the adult relationships in a family change, there may be a huge impact for the kids. Family change comes in many forms, parents separating, or forming new partnerships are two of the big ones.
As tough as these times are for the adults concerned, they may spell even more upheaval for your children. For most kids these changes bring difficult times even when they offer relief from constant tension and fighting between the adults.
As parents there is a lot you can do to help your children through these situations. One vital step is to keep thinking about the situation from your children's point of view. What is it like for them? What is changing for them? How much choice are they getting about how their lives are shaping up? What are they feeling about you and about themselves?
Children often long for things to go back to how they were. For parents this may seem an unrealistic dream. You may feel guilty and pressured because you can't satisfy that dream for your children, but they still have plenty of important needs that you can meet.
Perhaps most important, kids need to know their parents love them. Both parents. You can tell them that. You can show them that in your behaviour. You can encourage your children to have strong loving relationships with both parents, regardless of the relationship the parents have with each other.
You can also put some limits on the impact that you let the adult relationship have on the kids. They no longer live with both parents. That may be unavoidable. But the distress kids feel when their parents wrangle over access, or use them as go betweens, or criticize their other parent usually is avoidable. And those are limits you can set.
For most parents it's a nightmare. You don't much want to be in the situation yourself, and you certainly didn't intend to do this to your kids. In the long run, most children come through it okay. And that has a lot to do with their parents providing them with steady, loving support and helping them find effective ways of dealing with what is happening in their lives.
If you want help to do this you might try the Relationships Aotearoa booklet called "Through Children's Eyes, A guide to how kids cope when families change."
It looks at some of the common ways that kids react when parents separate and families change. You might see a mix of these different ways of behaving in your child, or just elements of one or two.
All of these reactions are normal in kids yet they often leave parents feeling hurt and confused. This booklet will help you to get an idea of what is going on for your children. It explores the feelings underneath your child's behaviour and suggests ways of responding positively that will help them and you.