Being separated while still living in the same home with your spouse or partner is one of the biggest challenges a couple can face. If you are parents, then the challenge is even greater. Children will quickly notice that their secure home is not what it used to be. To think that they will not notice or be anxious is misplaced optimism. So, what can you do? The most important thing is to plan. Even doing that will not be easy. However, especially where there are children, a plan is essential to minimize the burden on them. So, what needs to be in the plan? Here are a few important tips.
- Plan how to tell the children that you are separating. Do this together not separately. Tell them that you are working together to organize arrangements to live in separate houses and for them to spend time with both of you. This needs to be tailored to the age and developmental stage of each child. Most importantly, tell them that your separation is something between you as parents and that they are in no way responsible for your separation. Tell them that you will both always love them, and that you want them keep loving both of you and not feel like they have to choose or take a side.
- Plan your living space. It is important to organize where each of you will be in the house and when each of you comes and goes. Each of you needs separate areas, especially separate bedrooms or sleeping arrangements. Give each other as much private space as possible. This is challenging if you are in a small 2 bedroom unit but see what you can do. Be clear and open about what’s happening rather than trying to pretend that everything is fine. Children will know that it’s not fine and worry, and so they’ll need to be reassured that it will be fine in the future even though It’s really hard right now. They will respect your ability to work together in difficult circumstances and learn from it.
- Divide responsibilities. Be clear about who is doing what, i.e. cooking, cleaning and who is responsible for what in which rooms. Write it up and put it on the fridge so everyone can see it. Separation doesn’t mean that you never again collaborate! Remember that if you are parents you will always need to work together to make a parenting plan that works for both you and the children.
- Work out how to manage your finances. Finances are near the top of the list when it comes to causes of stress when couples separate. Keep a record of your expenses. Consider separating your accounts and/or keeping a joint account for the costs of separation such as mediation or Collaborative Practice (See RANSW website). Be open about your finances with each other. In any case, this will be necessary when you undertake your property and financial settlement.
- Plan time with your children. Don’t put the children in the middle of your conflict. Organise how each of you will spend time with them and especially for younger children, make a chart and put it on the fridge or in some common place where it’s easy for all to see. You may still do some things together such as having meals if the atmosphere is not tense. Whatever you do, don’t create a situation where the children must decide which parent to have their dinner with or who is going to put them to bed. Keep parenting decisions with the parents and remember this is just temporary.
Finally, make sure you take care of yourself and seek professional support when you need it. There is no shame in this and both you and your loved ones will greatly benefit.