Recently the Australian Institute of Family Studies released their Report “Children and young people in separated families: Family Law system experiences and needs”. The report involved interviews with 61 children aged between 10 and 17 years from 47 families in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia.
In summary, the recommendation from the Report is to “give children a bigger voice more of the time”.
From the comments the children made in the interviews, and from what my clients have told me over the years, children involved in Family Law disputes tend to ask the same kinds of tough, wrenching questions about separation and divorce.
These questions, boil down to:
From “why did you stop loving each other?” To “why are you doing this?” Kids often ask about the big picture reason behind the decision to separate. The children interviewed for the Report spoke of wanting information from their parents about the reasons for the separation. From the counsellors I speak to the answer to this question is not the details of why the parents are separating but instead reassurance for the child that the family is still a family just a different kind of family.
- Is this my fault?
Young children, especially, are self-centred. This is not their fault – it’s biology. They can’t help wondering if they are somehow at fault for the separation. The children interviewed for the Report spoke frequently of the parents not understanding the impact that the separation was having on their lives. Again, the most important thing is to assure the child that the parents’ love for them is unconditional; that they will always be loved and that will never change.
- Where will I live?
The children interviewed in the Report spoke of wanting their views to be taken seriously and needing support to help build new post separation relationships with their parents. They spoke of wanting to be involved in the process of setting up the post separation life. Counsellors I speak to recommend that parents try and agree on a plan – even a temporary one – before breaking the news of separation to the kids. Counsellors also recommend always speaking respectfully about the other parent, their home and their extended family when discussing these matters with children.
The good news is that, according to the Report and counsellors I speak to, parents don’t have to have all the answers. Instead, it’s about looking beyond the question and getting to what kids are really asking for – affirmation, comfort and reassurance.