Staying Family

Going through a separation is never easy. Not for the one who leaves, and certainly not for the one who stays. Saying goodbye to your ex-partner, turning your back and never looking back is a personal challenge. And yet, something new and unknown is waiting on the other side. First, one’s own self, which wants to be rediscovered. And then the many adventures that one may experience with the new me. 

But this model doesn’t work for everyone. Because as soon as children are involved, things get complicated. Turning around and not looking back is not an option. The new me, which is now supposed to be in the foreground, has to wait for now. Because there are one, two, three or more little souls who are also involved. Who have to cope with the separation of their parents. Who are insecure, angry, ashamed and sad. And who have absolutely nothing to do with the parents‘ decision, but are allowed to share in it.

Ending a long-term relationship demands a lot from us: oceans of tears, siren-like fits of rage, sleepless nights – the body and soul are in crisis mode. Often, dealing with each other peacefully is not even possible. And pulling yourself together when children are within earshot, dealing with each other respectfully, demonstrating to the little ones that everything is okay, that mom and dad can still be relied on, is often a real feat. And sometimes the anger, the grief, is so great that it is simply impossible to meet each other peacefully. And yet we are the adults here. The role models who should set an example. Everything we model for our children is stored in them under relationship patterns and will accompany them throughout their lives. Security and nest warmth, a regulated daily routine, contact with both parents are of crucial importance for children. An angry father who is unreasonably loud with the mother automatically triggers a protective instinct in the children. A mother who publicly discredits the father of her children, compassion. Open conflicts over money or child support make them think they are responsible. Children are caught between two stools, and no matter how bad one parent may be in the eyes of the other, they love it. Children love without reservation, and this must be acknowledged to them. They must not be manipulated or pulled to any side. The satisfaction for the manipulator would be short-lived, leaving behind traumatized children who struggle with all the prejudices about children of divorce. They wonder whether they are still allowed to love mom or dad. And blame themselves for the situation.         

But how do you remain a family even though mom and dad are no longer together? First of all: Both have to pull together. Both must be able to put their own ego behind them and prioritize the children. Both must see eye to eye and learn to treat each other with respect. The separation is now complete. The ex-partner should no longer have to take the blame for your own mistakes. More can not be, there is no greater closure. Consider together what would be best for the children. How you can manage together to make the transition to this new life model easier for them. Who is moving out? Is there a possibility that the children will continue to grow up in their familiar environment? What is the financial situation? Does it have to be a lawyer right away, or wouldn’t a mediator be a better move? How often do they see the other parent? Is there an opportunity to spend time together, even if it’s just half an hour, to make them feel that mom and dad are handling the situation well?

The theory always sounds simple. Putting it into practice is a challenge. When one has been humiliated. One’s self-esteem has been taken away. When your partner won’t give you a chance to talk peacefully. When resentment and anger and accusations overshadow everything. Or when the partner is up and gone, and has finished with his old life. 

But after every crisis we get the chance to evolve. To become the person we really are, and the person we want to be. So every crisis is a chance for a new beginning. We can decide for ourselves whether we begin it with feelings of hate and self-pity, or with inner strength and joy of life. We literally grow beyond ourselves. And this new, self-confident, strong woman is able to meet her ex-partner at eye level. When necessary, then, to ignore, to forgive, and not to be provoked. Not out of weakness, but out of strength. To be at peace with oneself. 

No way? You can’t? Then consider this: both you and your ex-partner would, without hesitation, lay down their lives for that of your child. Then why shouldn’t both of you be able to at least not negatively impact your children’s lives? Is that really too much to ask? 

Conflicts cannot always be avoided. On the contrary, they are important, they are part of life. It’s just as wrong to hide them from your children and pretend that the world is perfect. But it depends on you how you manage them. At what level you talk to each other, in what ego. Is it the hurt child ego, the know-it-all parent ego, or the adult ego that can discuss the problem soberly and rationally, without reproaches, accusations, and hurt?

And what if it’s not you at all? What if it is the ex-partner who makes peaceful interaction impossible? Don’t get worked up about it. Create distance. Restrict contact to the bare minimum or look for an intermediary to arrange visits, etc. Give the other person time to process his or her emotions. Give the other person time to process his or her emotions. A couples therapist can also help you find the right tone for each other.

However you part, you remain connected throughout your lives. You remain a family, whether you like it or not. You will meet again sooner or later, even if you avoid each other. Let your children grow up carefree. Let them feel safe. Loved. Looking positively into the future. Without fear of commitment and loss. Without guilt. And don’t let them have to make a choice at some point. 


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