I'm the one who has to pick up the pieces ...

Updated: Aug 17, 2019

For you: when you feel like you're fighting an uphill battle.

Maybe you caught my post last week about keeping Adult Stuff just between the adults, and keeping children out of the middle of post-separation communication (and conflict)?

Well, there is an obvious follow up to this, which was raised twice with me in the week following the post, and which I absolutely will talk about today.

You were probably thinking it too ...

That's all good, Shona, but I still have to say something to the children ... and what do I do when I'm the only parent trying to do the right thing? What about when the other parent is drawing the children into their "adult stuff"? What about when I'm the one who has to put the pieces back together after every visit?

What you're doing matters ...

I want to acknowledge the daily struggle that many of you are in. I want you to know I see you. I'm going to tell you what I told one beautiful soul who asked me about this this week:

It's so hard on the "damage control" side - I'm sorry you find yourself there. Your children will one day have some insight into the lengths that you went to to protect them, and they will love you for it ... until then though, the sacrifices you make, the conflict you absorb, to be the parent you know your children need - will be hidden - but still weighty. Even if (or especially if) you're the only parent doing it, it matters that you're keeping adult stuff away from their little ears, and that you're building up their little hearts for whatever they might face at their other house. You're doing good, Mumma* ❤️xx

(Of course, this applies to Daddies too!)

And, because I know you can use some more keys to how you can deal with this stuff, I'm going to give lots of examples today of phrases and approaches you can use to

  • keep the lines of communication open with your children,

  • while at the same time keeping them out of the middle of conflict, and

  • keeping the information you do give, age-appropriate.

What can I say?

Both parents can still have conversations with the children. Absolutely talk with them about any concerns that they have.

Listen carefully. Acknowledge their feelings. Understand that they are dealing with big situations and big emotions, and be a soft landing place for them every time.

Listen to their ideas about solutions. And wind it up with:

  • "I'm here, sweetheart. I know it's not easy. Your dad and I will do our best to help you with that."

They need age-appropriate feedback. More often than not, this means:

  • "Oh, thanks for letting me know that, honey. I'll talk with your mum about it, and we'll work something out. You can leave it with me."

And age-appropriate information:

  • "We have decided that you can go to Jamie's party on the weekend!"

(Totally leave out the bit about the 12 text messages that it took to come to that agreement!)

And age-appropriate decisions:

  • "Do you want to take your blue pyjamas or your spotty ones?"

  • "Do you want to go to the beach or the playground?"

  • "Would you rather wear your hair in a plait or a ponytail?"

(not "Do you want to stay with me this weekend, or go on holiday with Dad?")

Love all of me

Why is it so painful and destructive for children to be in the middle of conflict between their parents?

Because it hurts to see the two people you love most in the world, locked in ongoing disputes and overwhelmed by simmering emotions. And because both parents are part of them.

If you want to parent a child with a "whole" sense of self, then it is necessary to acknowledge and appreciate every part of them.

Even the part that is "just like their Mum".

Imagine, when you say "you're so creative, I love that about you", if you could add:

  • "your Dad is creative too!" or,

  • "you know, you get that from your Dad!"

You have just given your child a gift -- the freedom to let that little light of creativity burn in their life, instead of hiding it in shame.

Their other parent is telling the children everything ...

Again, regardless of what is happening in the other house, you can be a soft landing-place for your children. Every time they come back to you, they can find relief, and protection and safety with you.

Be aware of your reaction when you hear the information that comes back from the other parent. Your child needs to know that they are safe with you. Safe to release all of the worry and sadness that comes with carrying an adult load.

Let them leave it in your hands and run off to be a kid again.

Don't give them more weight by adding your own adult thoughts and feelings on top.

Lighten the mood and the load for them:

  • "Oh, Daddy said he was angry with me for leaving? Hmmm ... <breeeeeaaaathe> ... How did you feel about that? I imagine that might have been sad for you. I know you love us both and you want us both to be happy."

It might help to write down just a few phrases like this that you can have ready to go when your child comes to you with these things.

Don't get caught off-guard.

If you know that you're going to get information that might press your buttons, practice saying things that give you time to think, that express empathy and understanding, and that de-fuse the comment straight away, letting your child know that they can let it go:

  • "Wow, that's a lot of information for a little guy!"

  • "Interesting ... is there anything else you want to tell me?"

  • "Hmm ... I'll have to have a think about that."

  • "Sometimes people say things like that when they're feeling [angry, upset, frustrated, hurt]."

  • "I understand. I feel [angry, upset, frustrated, etc.] too sometimes."

You can always come back to it later, if you need to, when you've had a chance to think about a more long-term response. But honestly, often that's not necessary, because you have already given your child what they needed -- somewhere to leave their heaviness, someone to absorb their confusion, something to come back to when they feel overwhelmed.

Don't feel like you have to answer or respond to the information.

Respond to the feelings, hear the need, see the experience from your baby's perspective, and keep your own experience minimal.

  • "Hmm, that makes me a bit sad too."

  • "Hmm, I don't really understand why he said that to you, but thank you for sharing it with me."

  • "Aw, honey, that sounds like a big thing for you to think about - you can't really fix that for Mummy, can you?"

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