It is impossible to list every one of these possible changes, as every family is different. However, when these situations arise, it is really important that parents can work together to agree how best to manage these changes and transitions in a way that is always sensitive to their children’s needs and best interests.
Some of the most common “life events” that can occur after separation and divorce include:
- Moving House
Sometimes people move home upon separation or divorce; however, there are also many occasions where this may not take place for some years. It is vital to plan moves carefully, as there are often issues that parents need to agree on, such as where the children go to school or issues relating to a child’s health and welfare. Even more careful consideration needs to be given to matters where it is proposed that one parent moves abroad with the children.
In this situation, if you are unable to directly agree all of these issues with the other parent, the best approach is to seek support from a family law professional such as a family consultant, family mediator or family lawyer. Many families face this sort of transition at some point. Most are able to navigate such changes themselves without needing support but, where you find this is not possible, do not be afraid to seek appropriate professional help.
- New partners
Life does change in many ways after separation. While you may not envisage meeting someone else when you are going through a separation, it is likely that, at some point, either you or your ex-partner will start a new relationship.
Managing the introduction of a new partner needs to be handled in a sensitive and very carefully considered way, factoring in how the children are likely to cope with such a transition. Rather than rushing ahead with this, it is far better that you try to agree how to do this with the other parent before you introduce a new partner to the children.
Bear in mind, too, that sometimes children need more time than you before such an introduction is made. Your new partner may also have children and you need to consider how this might be managed. Your own child’s age may also be relevant, as an older child may have his or her own view on the situation that needs to be factored into the matrix.
The best advice is to seek to agree a plan of action with the other parent, as not involving them may lead to bad feelings as well as a breakdown in trust. If the other parent is seeking to introduce their partner, do try to keep an open mind. A meeting between both parents and a new partner can be helpful, as very often mistrust and suspicion may be rooted in past conflict rather than in a realistic assessment of the likely impact of introducing the new person to the children.
- Step-parenting and “blended families”
The 21st-century family comes in all shapes and sizes. Many children now experience the separation of their parents at some point in their childhood. Similarly, parents form new relationships and children will have step-parents or live-in “blended families” – i.e. families where there are children who come from earlier relationships.
Being a step-parent can seem very daunting at first, but there are lots of helpful resources on the internet, such as http://www.beingastepparent.co.uk/.. https://www.familylives.org.uk/advice/your-family/stepfamilies/
There will of course be challenges. The scale of these as a step-parent varies, depending on family background, the children’s ages and everyone’s past experiences.
Step-parents need patience, understanding, clear boundaries and empathy; however, if you are already a parent, these are skills you already possess.
Although the notion of the “blended family” has only entered the English language in recent years, it is much more common than you might think and parents can access plenty of advice and support. Sometimes, blending children into the family unit who come from differing backgrounds and experiences can be challenging. If you do need assistance, there are therapists and co-parent coaches who can help (please see https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists and https://www.aft.org.uk/consider/view/family-therapist-directory.html?tzcheck=1l.
It may also be the case that, at some point, your child or children might benefit from their own therapeutic support, so that they can have a “private space” to talk through any matters that might be worrying them.
- Children growing up and changing phases
While some of the changes will only affect some families, there is one inevitable thing about parenting: your child or children will grow up. Whether this comes in the shape of moving school, going through puberty, undertaking exams or moving to college or university, this will affect all children. And it will require ongoing communication and cooperation between their parents.
The fact that children do grow up and that on many occasions the family dynamic shifts means that it is all the more important that parents can establish a relationship of trust and respect as soon as possible when they separate. This can sometimes take longer to build for some more than it does for others, but, in most instances, it is possible.
Every family is different, and separated parents have many ways of communicating. Some separated parents meet up less frequently or not at all, but still communicate and agree matters well, either online or via phone. Others do get together from time to time, for example to mark a child’s birthday, graduation or other special occasion
Ultimately, the one sure thing is that one day your child will be an adult. They are likely to form their own relationship, have a child and/or marry. These may well be events that link you as parents well beyond the point where your child grows up, so how you manage your parenting journey has an impact that is undoubtedly long-lasting.