Putting your children first during separation

Separating can be a stressful time. When children are involved, you need to set aside your relationship issues and work out how they will be cared for, discussing things like access and custody arrangements. Children are not able to see the situation in an adult way. They view the world from their own perspective because they don’t have the experience to see the bigger picture. This may sometimes seem hurtful and unfair but you need to understand.

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Keeping children and their families together

Your children need both of you in their lives, regardless of the issues in your relationship. They also need their family and whānau. Having grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends in their life is important. Making sure children maintain these relationships is important for their wellbeing.

Doing the best for the children

The best decisions for your children are where:

  • you both cooperate with each other
  • you and your children (when they are old enough to tell you what they think) work
  • together to sort out how you will care for them in the future
  • you reach agreement without fighting and arguing
  • you encourage your children to talk about their feelings and be involved in the plans – this will help them adapt to their new lives
  • you both stick to what you agree but stay flexible and cooperate if something needs to be changed for your children’s sake
  • there are as few changes as possible to other parts of your children’s lives.

If your ex-partner wants a plan you don’t like:

  • remember it is important that children keep seeing their other parent, if possible, so try to be fair and reasonable in regard to parental access
  • keep encouraging your ex-partner to put the children’s needs and interests first
  • remember that time not seeing one parent seems much longer for children, especially for children aged six or younger
  • remember that even a short time without contact can be hard for children, so take this into consideration when making child custody arrangements 

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If my feelings take over

Things will get worse if you let your feelings take over because you’re more likely to:

  • be unreasonable and not think clearly about what’s best for your children
  • try to get your children to take sides
  • punish your ex-partner
  • get revenge
  • remove your ex-partner from your life and your children’s lives.

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Understanding what’s best for the children

  • Accept your feelings towards your ex-partner.
  • Stop blaming yourself and your ex-partner.
  • Talk with your ex-partner. If it is difficult to do this, you can get help.
  • Take positive steps to help yourself cope.

Ideas for coping

  • Organise support from friends and whānau.
  • Tell friends and whānau what’s happening and what they can do to help. Make sure you keep in touch.
  • Ask for help to look after your children when you need a break.
  • Take good care of your health, especially:
    • eat well and get some exercise
    • get as much sleep as you can.
  • Remember it’s OK to cry.
  • Try not to rely on drink or drugs – you will be able to deal better with what’s going on for you and your children without these things. Call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797 for help if you need it.
  • Get professional support if you are not coping. Professional support could be provided by:
    • your health professional
    • a school counsellor at your children’s school
    • a professional counsellor (which you will have to pay for)
    • social support agencies or parent groups in your area.
  • Talk to other parents you know who have split up.
  • Work at making friends if you move home and are living in a new area.
  • Keep a diary – write about how you and your children feel. Over time, you will see how you feel stronger and that things have progressed.
  • Be strong for your children. It helps if you focus on what you know will make your children happy.

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