First, let me just say that being a family after separation is in no way easy or even achievable for many. Splitting up a marriage is basically pants, any way you look at it.
I’m writing these ways to still be a family after separation assuming that your situation is safe. You are safe, your children are safe, and you just can’t get along with your partner any longer.
Everybody’s circumstances are different, everyone’s fears and struggles are different, and everyone’s reason for ending their marriage, are different.
When I realised my marriage wasn’t going to work, one of my biggest sorrows was that my children wouldn’t have a nice, tidy nuclear family. That’s still the dream for most of us, but the reality is that it’s no longer uncommon for marriages to end, and families to split.
Stability is paramount
When my ex-husband and I put aside all the hurt and disappointment that our marriage breakdown wrought, we knew that the children’s feeling of stability was a paramount concern for both of us.
We knew we needed to work hard in order to allow them to still feel like they were part of a family unit even though we were no longer together. In fact, they were going to need to feel that way more than ever.
Don’t test triggers
When you love someone enough to marry them and have kids with them, over time you learn each other’s trigger points. It’s easy, and sometimes mildly satisfying, to poke them with a red hot iron, but as with most conflict, it’s often better to walk away and process stuff logically rather than being reactionary.
So, with that firmly in mind, here are my best ideas for remaining a family after separation.
How to stay a family after separation
Share a meal together regularly
Whether it’s birthdays or holidays, or just an organised family meal together once a month, it’s important to all spend time together as a family unit, if you can.
Try a family conversation dinner to help break the ice
You don’t have to be BFFs with the ex, but do be civil and pleasant. Show your kids that although you may not live together any longer, you are both still friends and you enjoy spending time with the kids all together as a family.
This not only helps your kids still feel part of a family unit, but it also models for them how to behave when they break up with boyfriends or partners in the future.
Remember we are our kids closest examples of human behaviour, so we need to lead by example of good, well-adjusted, non-freaky human behaviour.
Don’t fight or discuss your issues in front of the kids
Because you know each other so well, when you separate, it’s likely that you can a) push each other’s buttons or b) still have issues that make you nuts.
Be mindful not to fight about those things in front of the children. Your children are your joint beating heart, so why would you want to hurt them by involving them in your issues?
It’s okay to still have unresolved issues that you’re trying to work through. In fact, it’s probably likely that things will come up and tempers will flare: you broke up for a reason, right? But it’s better to step away from the button pushing when your blood rises and speak about it later when the kids aren’t around. That might mean regularly meeting up without the kids, so do that, even if it’s hard.
I find email is a good way not to lose my cool over an issue that makes me passionate.
Go as a family to an event the kids will enjoy
If there is a particular movie or stage show the kids are interested, go all together sometimes. Grab an ice cream after.
It’s only a few hours and then you can go your separate ways again, but it will give the kids a sense of fun surrounding the family unit. They will have happy memories of doing nice things together, even though you’re no longer living in the same house.
A family movie is a great option when you can barely tolerate your ex for longer than five minutes. It’s dark, you don’t have to talk, but it’s still a shared experience as far as the kids are concerned.
Be a united front at school
If there are special school events, first days, teacher meetings, it’s important that both parents show an interest. This is especially true if it involves a difficult meeting with your child’s teacher.
This might help: How to avoid toxic disputes between parents and teachers
The children will want to know that you are both there and invested in their school life. The same goes for extracurricular activities. Both of you should be there to cheer and clap.
You don’t have to hug or high five if you don’t fancy it, just let your kids see you there, hopefully side by side with matching proud grins. That way, they know you are both there for them.
Bear in mind that my “family time” did not happen immediately. To be honest, sometimes it goes completely pear shape and we need to start back at the beginning and remember why we’re doing it. However, as with everything worthwhile in life, perseverance, patience and love will get you there in the end.
How are you managing to stay a family after separation?