If you are separating, you and your ex will make the decisions about your children. But if your children were able to make the decisions or the rules, this is what they would like you to know:
Kara Bishop, the curator of www.postcardsfromsplitsville.com, works with children in the 10 to 12 year age group. One of the exercises she does is to ask children to create a set of rules they wish their parents would follow during and after separation. The list is then presented to their parents as a group. The program is not available in Australia, but there is a video on the link, and the tips below summarise the main message for you. And, we have the fridge magnet! For what it’s worth, my thirty plus years of experience says that this wish list would apply to most age groups, even if expressed differently.
The Top Ten wishes that Kara has seen repeatedly over the years are:
1. Don’t say bad things about my other parent;
2. Keep us out of adult stuff;
3. Don’t make me feel bad for loving my other parent;
4. Learn to get along for big events;
5. Don’t make me choose sides;
6. No fighting in front of us;
7. Don’t make me a messenger, or put me in the middle;
8. Don’t share or take out your anger on me;
9. Don’t ask me to spy;
10. Give me one-on-one time with both of you.
It is a useful exercise to think about applying this list to any work or family group you are part of. Put yourself in a situation where two people you love or respect are in conflict, are not talking to each other, but are asking you to listen to each of them criticise the other, and asking you to agree with them or choose between them. Doing this exercise for yourself can make a child’s experience of being caught between two people they love, you and your ex, feel real to you.
One of the key messages from Kara Bishop’s work is that many groups of children over the years have come up with the same rules, so it’s hard to get away from how real and how important this list probably is for your own kids.
You could share this blog with your spouse, as a way of starting the conversation about being on the same page with these rules. You may need extra support to apply the rules to your own situation, to find ways to remember them, and at times to remind your ex without being seen to criticise her/him, and causing more conflict.
Please call my office on 9939 6383 at any time for a fridge magnet reminder of these rules, or a referral to one of the child psychologists in my practice group who do excellent work with separating families.