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Supporting Children through separation and divorce.

Separation/ Divorce — admin @ 7:41 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about separation. We have been speaking in particular about how to help children to negotiate their way through the separation of their parents. This is an issue that comes up in our work on a daily basis and includes the full range of participants in a family break up. We see couples and individuals who are going through or have gone through a separation. This often involves a subsequent divorce. We see children of differing ages who are trying to come to terms with the breakup of their parents’ relationship. We also see the aftermath with adult children of separated or divorced parents reflecting on their childhood experiences. Grandparents also feel the effects of separation involving children and grandchildren.

There are some actions that parents can take that will help children to deal with separation and divorce and the changes that these bring about. This first thing is to keep lines of communication open. It is important that parents keep their children informed in an age appropriate manner. Children will notice changes and wonder what is going on and it is reassuring to be told what is happening. Children will be better able to deal with changes in living arrangements if they have been told what is going to happen in advance. This can include being involved in viewing and furnishing a new house if that is what is happening.

On a more fundamental level is the truth of what is happening between mammy and daddy. Again, it is important to try to be as honest as possible without burdening the child with too much information. Age appropriate communication with children can include the clarification of the difference between parents no longer loving each other while each still loves the children. A child may come to believe that they are in some way responsible for their parents breakup and it is important to reassure them that this is not the case. Children will feel reassured if they know that each parent still loves them and will remain a big part of their lives after the separation. Extended family have a role to play too and maintaining contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins keeps a level of familiarity in the child’s changing emotional landscape.

It is a general rule of thumb that children will do well when parents co-operate in their upbringing. In a post separation situation it is useful if the parents devise a way of communicating with each other about what is going on in their children’s lives. If the parents find it difficult to speak with each other a system of regular email or other communication can work well. It is reassuring for a child if each parent is kept up to date with issues that may arise in school or with friends. It also helps a child through a separation when each parent gives the same message. Children may harbour hope of reconciliation between their parents and look for differences in the parents’ attitudes. A consistent message delivered gently by each parent will help the child to gradually come to terms with the reality of the breakup.

One of the key things is for each parent to speak respectfully of the other. This may not reflect how they really feel but what is asked of a parent here is to put the interests of the child first. There may be any amount of unresolved emotional issues between the parents but these should not be communicated through the children. Open conflict, arguments or shouting are very stressful for children. It hardly needs us to say it but it is harmful to children if they become enlisted in a battle between their parents. As a parent it is important to find a space where your own feelings about the breakup of your relationship can be expressed and understood. We hope that this would prevent a situation where feelings of anger, resentment or a thirst for revenge are expressed using the children. It is possible to continue to well do well following separation and divorce if each family member can remain understanding of the other’s and especially the children’s ongoing emotional needs.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Prejudice, stigma and tolerance.

Depression,Separation/ Divorce — admin @ 3:43 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been getting up on our soap box. The issues we were discussing were stigma and prejudice. Often in therapy the issues that are covered are historical. These are the life events and relationships that shape us. Our parents, siblings,  family, schoolmates and teachers and our wider communityare all influences that help to shape our personality. We can spend a good deal of time in therapy reflecting on these influences and considering ways to change their ongoing effects.

The stories from our past which we remember and work through in therapy can include incidents where others have taken it upon themselves to criticize or condemn us. These can be hurtful and harmful and depending where we encounter this it can have a major effect on us. This can be worked on in therapy. Sometimes this criticism can be because of prejudice and it can be current. It is this which we want to address today. For all that we can work with these issues in therapy they also reflect the society in which we live.

We wonder if our highlighting these issues can help towards making life a little more bearable by encouraging a little tolerance where we find difference. And this seems to be important to the kinds of things which we come across in our work. Even though it’s the twenty first century and social norms have changed a great deal we still come across examples where clients are stigmatised and discriminated against. It might seem like we are talking about things that belong to previous decades but we find that these things are still happening in 2011.

When you make the decision to get married and commit yourself to another you expect that it will last for life in line with the vow. You don’t expect that the relationship will come apart and end in separation or divorce. Nobody expects to encounter a period of depression or even repeated periods of it through life. Many people struggle greatly with the process of facing up to their own sexual orientation. In all of these things the support of family, friends, colleagues and community can be a huge force for good. It is that force for good which we would like to appeal for today.

If you take tolerance to its ultimate conclusion it would mean that we must show some understanding of those who hold views that are in opposition to our own. The balance that we are trying to find is between holding firm views and the harm that expressing or attempting to enforce these views might cause. Our appeal is for understanding of those who may be gay or lesbian; who may be trying to establish a second relationship after a marriage has ended or those attempting to put their lives together after a period of depression. Our plea is simple. It is to show a little understanding and tolerance and not to stand in the way of someone trying to become the person they want to be.

Cut out dolls, hopes and dreams, divorce and new beginnings.

Separation/ Divorce — admin @ 12:56 pm

Here at counselling connections this week we’ve been thinking and talking about divorce. It seems that there are so many losses involved in finally coming to the stage where a marriage is officially dissolved in a court of law. A very private grief is made public. But it takes quite a lot to get to this stage.

Hands up who can remember that game we played as kids with a book of cardboard cut out dolls and cardboard cut out doll’s clothes. The doll was a blank canvas on which you could place a number of different outfits (clipping the outfit around the doll’s shoulders could be a bit tricky . . . it might not stay on very well!). The exciting thing is to be able to change the blank doll from a princess to a cowgirl to a disco queen with the only limits being the availability of suitable cut out clothes. To make these clothes ourselves means the only limits are the limits of our imaginations and we can make the blank doll into anything we want it to be.

It seems to us that these childhood imaginings have some parallels in adult attraction and more particularly in how we project the cut out clothes of our hopes and dreams onto the blank doll of our chosen partner. Some may be able to meet these hopes and dreams in adult life and sadly some will not. Some pinned on roles will fit well and some will fall off. The person who we choose to fill the role of husband or wife will have their own way of being and we may find out too late that their hopes, dreams and expectations and our own are just not compatible.

In working through the losses involved in a relationship breakup in therapy we often find that the loss of the hopes and dreams are more difficult to come to terms with than the loss of the actual person who we were in relationship with and from whom we have now become separated. The love we felt for them may have long since died a slow death but the feelings of loss associated with the loss of our dream can remain. It is not the person we miss; it is the failure to fulfil the aims of our childhood imagination that is hardest to come to terms with.

These childhood aims are complex and individual to each person. In simple terms it may be the expectation that ‘when I grow up I will be married with a nice house and happy children’. Sometimes we find that these dreams include the wish to correct aspects of one’s own childhood which were a disappointment. We want to give our own children things that we feel we missed out on ourselves. The strong and holding family life that we imagined we could create cannot survive the break up of a relationship. We have to adjust our aspirations to the new and more complicated family arrangements that follow such a break up.

There are also the symbols of marriage. A wedding itself is a great public celebration of two people choosing to commit to each other and setting out to make a life together. The wedding rings swapped on that day are worn with pride and can give a sense of the continuity and support felt in a good marriage. The photo album with smiling faces showing the optimism and hope for a life together contrast with the private loss that can be experienced years later when looking over these pictures alone. The wedding dress is a particularly important symbol and is often something invested with dreams of becoming a princess that have been held by a bride since she was a girl. These are all things associated with our hopes and dreams that are painful to let go of when, for whatever reason love fades and a marriage ends.

If there are children the practical aspects of separation and divorce can be made even more difficult. Some cannot resist the temptation to play out some of their feelings about their former partner in front of the children. We can only plead with these people to try to behave both as adults and as parents and co-operate together in matters relating to the children leaving personal hurts and disputes for a different place.

Reflecting on the symbols of marriage together with our childhood hopes and dreams and our adult expectations are things that commonly arise in a therapy following a marriage break up. There is something especially upsetting seeing the details of your personal life set out and described in legal documents. It can be a time of deep personal loss, of reflection and of re-considering what we hope for and expect from life. It also represents the opportunity for new beginnings and we at counselling connections wish you well with this journey. We know that you can love and be loved and if you feel we can be of use to you in making a start and looking over all these things we’d be pleased to journey with you.

FB. Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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