Tending to your own needs after separation
You may be going through a whole range of emotions like grief, sorrow, guilt, loneliness, anger, relief, or even feeling rejected. It is okay to feel these emotions as everyone processes their feelings differently and at different rates. The emotions you are experiencing at this moment may come and go in waves and will not last forever.
As hard as it may seem right now, it is important that you try and take care of yourself as best as you can, so that you can also tend to your children’s needs. This may include:
- Establishing boundaries and take some time apart from your former partner so that you can both start the healing process
- Prioritising self-care by getting regular sleep, nurturing your body with healthy food, exercising and getting some sun
- Take some time out for yourself and do things that you enjoy or find relaxing, such as going for walks, meditating, listening to music, seeing friends and family, picking up a new hobby or journaling
- Processing your emotions and thoughts by journaling or talking to a support person to get a different perspective
You are undergoing a major transition in your life. Sometimes support from friends and family may not be enough. It is okay to ask for professional help. If you are experiencing depression or having suicidal thoughts, it is important that you reach out to your GP or other professionals.
Tending to your children’s needs after separation
Your children may be experiencing the same emotions you are feeling, and it is important for you not to rely on them for support, but for you to support them instead of through this difficult time. You can put your children’s needs first by:
- Explaining to them in words they can understand about the separation
- Reassure your children that both parents still love them and that it is not their fault so that they do not feel insecure or abandoned
- Ask your children how they are feeling and listen attentively
- Give your children the opportunity to ask any questions they may have
- Ensure your children are able to still have a relationship with the other parent (if it is in the child’s best interest to do so)
- Recognise that each parent will relate to the children in their own way, which may differ from your way and if there are disagreements, settle it with the other parent, not in view of the children
- Talking to your children’s support network to make them aware about the separation, such as family, close friends or school teacher, so that they can also assist you to look out for the well being of your children
- Maintain day to day and extra-curricular activities that your children love so that they can maintain a sense of routine
- If you have a new partner who is involved in the children’s care, talk to your new partner about it
Things you should be mindful not to do:
- Get your children to pass notes to the other parent, as this places them in the middle of the situation
- Speak negative things about the other parent to your children to undermine their relationship
- Arguing with the other parent in front of the children
- Make it difficult for the children to contact the other parent
- Demand your children to make decisions about where they would like to live
- Projecting your emotions about the separation on your children
All children will react to the separation in different ways, for instance, they may act out or start behaving differently. If you are worried about their behaviour, it is important that you reach out to your children’s GP or other professionals.
Parenting arrangements after separation
Having children with your former partner will mean that you will continue to have ties. Sometimes reaching a mutual agreement for parenting arrangements can be challenging, but it is vital to reach a workable agreement.
Parenting arrangements can be an oral agreement, a written parenting plan, or a formal agreement put into a court order known as “consent orders”.
It is best to get a written agreement signed and dated by both parents. Parenting plans and consent orders both must be written, signed and dated by both parents. However, parenting plans are not legally enforceable.
Regardless, parenting agreements should cover the pragmatics of parental responsibilities such as:
- Day to daycare such as where the children will live
- Changeover locations
- Special occasion arrangements such as Christmas, Birthdays, Mother and Father’s Day, Easter, and school holidays
- Schooling and childcare arrangements
- Extra-curricular activities
- Special needs or medical arrangements
- Religious and cultural needs
- Financial support or child support payments
- Ongoing communication between parents and a process to resolve disputes or change plans
In instances where parents have difficulty communicating, a helpful tool that can be used is a communication book. This can be a physical book where each parent can write notes about anything the other parent should know in relation to the children. This is exchanged during the changeover and can be used to avoid disputes between parents.
Both parents must agree to the arrangement unless the court orders that one particular parent can make decisions on their own. Parenting agreements can vary depending on your family and individual circumstances, along with your relationship with your former partner. It is important to stick to the agreed arrangements. The agreement will not be valid if it is made under threat, duress or coercion.
Read more about parenting and child custody arrangements.
Resources and support services available
- Family Relationship Advice Line (1800 050 321, familyrelationships.gov.au)
- Victoria Legal Aid (1300 792 387)
- Federation of Community Legal Centres (9652 1501, fclc.org.au)
- Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800, kidshelp.com.au)
- MensLine Australia (1300 78 99 78, mensline.org.au)
- 1800 Respect – National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service (1800 737 732, 1800respect.org.au)
- Lifeline (13 11 14, lifeline.org.au)