10 April is known largely across America as National Siblings Day. We meet plenty of families who are going through separation, and we too recognise the importance of having a day for children to recognise and lean on each other when, at times, feelings may be a little unsettled.
On this day in particular we encourage parents who are facing separation to think about their children, and take the opportunity to consider how their children get on with each other, and the general dynamics of the relationship.
Children of parents who are separated or divorced may feel that their relationships, with each other as well as their parents, have been impacted as a result of the separation. It is not unusual for a particular child to be regarded as closer to one parent or the other, and for the reverse to apply to their sibling. When parents separate this can lead to a family being divided, and the fallout can have a knock on effect on the sibling relationship. Here are our tips on how to keep the relationship between siblings strong, when it matters most.
Consider individual perspectives
In order to try and minimise the impact on what is an incredibly important relationship, it is helpful to try and consider things from each child’s individual perspective. Family counselling can be very useful as can individual counselling giving children the opportunity to discuss personal feelings, particularly those which they may feel are selfish or hurtful to one or more members of their immediate family.
Unless the siblings are not close in age it is sensible to give them the same information, from both parents, at the same time so that everyone knows what has been said.
Younger children often prefer to be told what the arrangements will be following separation, and to be reassured that they will continue to see both parents.
Older children may appreciate being consulted and asked their opinions as to when they want to spend time with each parent, taking into account other commitments, including clubs and time with friends.
Usually, following separation, children spend time with their parents together but for some families the separation might be used as an opportunity for the children to have individual time with each parent, particularly if there are already difficulties with the sibling relationship.
Parents often worry about being perceived by their children as favouring one child over the other and it is really important to try and avoid any separation exacerbating these feelings. Even if your relationship with your ex is difficult, do try to work together and acknowledge that co-parenting is something that you are going to have to do in the future, ensuring that all children feel equally valued. Try and avoid situations whereby children feel they have to choose between parents e.g. refusing to go to an important family event such as a wedding or grandchild’s christening if your ex’s new partner will be there.
Over the past few years the government/legal system has recognised the importance of children having the opportunity to express their views about the arrangements for them following their parents’ separation.
Many mediators are now qualified to consult with children as part of the mediation process. Mediators can meet with the children and report back to the parent as to the children’s wishes and feelings. It is important to note that this is not about the children deciding what will happen, but about their views and wishes being heard.
When dealing with care proceedings or disputes between parents about how the children’s time will be spent following separation (who they will live with when), Justice Minister Simon Hughes has recently told the Family Justice Young People’s Board that children aged 10 or over will be given an opportunity to have their views heard by the judge on decisions affecting them. Options will include meetings, letters or pictures and there is even a court “gaming app” apparently being developed.
Being a parent always has challenges and this definitely applies following separation but being aware of the potential pitfalls and being sensitive to your children’s individual needs will hopefully make the transition from one home to two easier.
If you would like any help or information about the topics detailed above please contact Partner and Mediator, Kirstie Law on 01892 701271 or email her.