How to end the relationship but keep the kids: advice from Limpet Girl.
This is for the weary; the frustrated. This is for the battle-broken fathers. This is for the lost parents. This is for the separating men (and women) who just want to walk away. For those who are finding it too hard, who think, in a moment of despair, that they just want to give up. This is for you.
Your relationship has ended. Right now it probably feels like the apocalypse has arrived. Your world has come crashing down and the fallout spreads far and wide. Maybe you’ve already walked out. Or you might still be living in the family home and the tension is high. You might not be able to co-exist in the same space without it ending in a fight. You might despise this woman (or man – change gender as applicable) you once loved. But please, before you pack your bags and leave, before you close the door on the past, take this one golden rule to live by as you go your separate ways.
Your children need you.
That’s all you need to remember. Your children need you.
Your children need you to be present in their lives.
You don’t have to live in the same house, you don’t even have to live in the same town. But you do need to be a present and continuing factor. You wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband may understand you no longer want to be part of their life, but a five year old just won’t get it. If you disappear overnight and just turn up when it suits you, the only way a child can interpret that is through self-blame. Maintaining a relationship with a small child when you are not with them every day is hard. It takes commitment and patience. Often it’s a one-way street. Children are not great at phone calls, or Face Time. They typically have something more interesting to do than answer the same old questions they’ve already faced from Mom when they got home from school. So you have to be present. Spend as much time with them as possible. Turn up to watch them play sport, go to dance recitals, see them in the school play. Make spending time with them the biggest priority in your life. They need you to do that. Take an interest in what’s going on. If you can’t physically be there, call, text, Skype, send a postcard, send little presents, do what ever you can to let them know you are thinking of them and they are the most important thing in your life. They need you to do that.
Your children need you to stop arguing.
You don’t get on with the person you once loved. Passions are running high, people are hurt and people are angry. But save that anger for time with your friends and/or therapist. Your children don’t need to see you that way. All you and your ex need to be concerned about is arrangements for the children. When you are seeing them, where you will go, what time you’ll bring them home. And don’t turn it into an argument. If you actually can’t say a civil word to each other, involve a family mediator, a good friend or another family member who can stay neutral. Children learn about relationships from the ones they see around them. If they see you arguing and hating and falling apart, that’s what they will take with them into their own grown up lives. Those arguments about what happened during the relationship are not yours to have now. You are not interested in each other’s lives, what he or she does or says is none of your business. The only thing you need to talk about with your ex is stuff to do with the kids.
Your children need you to co-parent.
Children are high maintenance projects. They have doctor appointments and dentist visits. There’s homework and school events, parent teacher meetings and more. Just because you have left the family home does not mean you opt out of all these things. Take responsibility for the shared care of your child. Your children will learn how to be a parent from the way that you manage the job now. Even if you are not physically present when these things happen, take an interest. Be concerned. Keep up to date. These things are important.
Your children need you to respect their other parent.
You might hate her (or him). You might think she is despicable. You might be hurting so much you can’t bear to think of your children still loving her. But they do. Children don’t stop loving someone when they go, or when they hurt them. That person is still important to them and for that reason, you need to show some respect. Don’t say bad things about your ex in front of your children. It hurts them. Keep your opinions to yourself, or if you have to, share them with your friends. You children don’t need to hear them.
Your children need you to be healthy.
The end of a relationship is awful. It hurts. It changes things. It changes you. But you need to work it out and heal yourself so that you can be the best parent you can be. It will take time and it will take help. You’ll need to think about things, talk about things and when you are ready, there are professionals who can help. Depression, loneliness, anger and social isolation can make being a single parent even harder than it already is. So get the help you need to take care of your mental health. Your children need you to be the happiest and healthiest you that you can be.
I speak these words through my own bitter experience. My ex-partner left the family home more than three years ago. He left one night without warning and it devastated three lives. Our sons were 5 and 11. They needed their Daddy but he wasn’t there for them. He hasn’t really been there since. He moved away and pulled down a shutter on the old life he had as part of a family. He sees them maybe three or four times a year, he calls them maybe three or four times a month. And it’s not enough. Now they are 8 and 14 and they still need him. But he’s not there. They need him, but he’s not there. He could be if he wanted to be, but he’s not there. It’s not that he’s trying to be mean, he just doesn’t really understand it. He doesn’t really understand their needs.
And so I’m sharing this because if it reaches just one person and helps them make a better decision about how to parent after a separation, then I have done some good today. If you are at the end of your tether with all the arguments and all the pain and you just want to walk away and start again somewhere new, please just think about your children. They don’t need you to live together as a happy family, but they do need you. They need you and it is your responsibility to love them, be present in their lives and to meet their needs. They need you. That’s all you need to know. You can leave your spouse, but you can’t leave your children. Please don’t leave your children.