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Making Contact Better - Your Child & You

Making Contact Better - Your Child & You

When parents have separated, contact can be challenging and emotionally painful for the children and their non-resident parent.
It is crucial to make every contact count and deliver what your child needs most.
A child has simple needs, believe it or not - love, food, comfort, warmth, safety, stability, routine, etc.
When parents separate, stability and routine are the immediate things which go awry. It is a confusing time for children, and they are emotionally caught up in not seeing both of their parents continuously.
We know that delay only causes harm to a child and damages vital relationships and bonds with, most significantly, the non-resident parent.
It would be nice to think that separated parents can be amicable regarding shared #CareArrangements.

However, in practice, this happens less frequently now.
The danger is that parents, caught up in the problems following the end of their relationship, forget the effect on the children.
Remember, when your relationship was still together, the children got a healthy balance of their needs from the mix of both parents.
But when one of those parents is taken out of the picture, what happens to those needs then? And who will provide them?

Divorce affects children the most.

This is compounded when contact has stopped for extensive periods of time.
New challenges arise, such as work patterns.
Before, when the two parents were together, the children accepted that they saw one or other parent in the evening after work. That was everyday life.
So, when work is an obstacle to navigating regular contact arrangements, the child misses out and notices the absence of the non-resident parent.
Then there are other concerns, such as parental alienation. This is where the resident parent, so embittered at the non-resident parent, sets about further damaging and distancing the relationship of the non-resident parent with their children.
Courts do not recognise parental alienation in primary legislation. There is limited case law, so it falls to Cafcass to decide whether or not alienation is a factor.
And when it is, it can be devastating to the child.

Divorce and child arrangements

In promoting better contact, it is essential to remember that stability and routine for your child have to be your primary objective.

McKenzie Law Partners often hear stories, especially from fathers, who describe how helpless they feel in preventing their relationship with their children from becoming distant or estranged.
This is because contact has been infrequent and/or disrupted.
Parental alienation interplays with this because the mindset of the resident parent is to pour scorn on the lack of regularity in the contact relationship and use that to pull the child more into their own arms, at the expense of the non-resident one.
Whatever contact routine you establish between yourselves or the Family Court has ordered must be stuck to.
Your child is relying upon this.
If contact is only ordered or agreed upon for alternate weekends, stick to it despite the challenges you might face with the resident parent.
Your child will become disillusioned and disheartened, even if you have to cancel just once. So, try to plan your life outside your #ChildArrangements so that this does not become a problem.
It may well be why your relationship with your child has become strained and distant.
Children do not process emotions in the same way as adults do. A disappointment to a child is very significant indeed.
Little do you know, but your child might be experiencing challenges. Especially when the resident parent moves on with their life, takes a new partner, and perhaps introduces a blended family environment to them.

Parental alienation is a form of child abuse that destroys children’s bonds with their parents.

The same could be said the other way round as well.
So, applying a child-focused approach is to think that maybe the little time your child spends with you is a sanctuary to them.
Maybe they just want love, cuddles, and a bit of straightforward normality.
Never underestimate this.
Recognise that your child will feel uncomfortable if you ask questions about their life and home. Don’t push them into a corner; it will make it more difficult for them to have a happy relationship with you.
Instead, let your child tell you about what is going on in their life in their own time…and in their own way. When they become more mature and older, they will remember that, and you will be seen as the kind-hearted parent who just allowed your child to decompress and feel like they are someone special.
Also, remember your child’s right to privacy. You might have been the one to bath them and dress them when you lived together as a family, but time away from this might have changed your child's perspective, and they might feel embarrassed or awkward about trying to fulfil that role again.
Let your child guide you on at least some of their needs. They will love you all the more for it.
And rise above any friction or tension about communication and sharing your child with the other parent.
At handovers, try to make them as vanilla and normal as possible. Children pick up on tension, even unspoken tension.
If information needs to be exchanged, such as when they last ate or when you last needed to give them some Calpol, for example, consider sending that information in an email. Just tell the other parent you’ve sent an email so they have an update.
A child learning to live in the new environment of separate homes and separated parents will be susceptible to criticism or judgement.
So, avoid that where at all possible.
And if you are in the middle of a #ChildArrangements case, and are currently living with an interim contact order, be careful not to find yourself accused of case-building against the resident parent or vice versa.
It is alright for your two homes to have separate routines and best practices, but try not to make it at the expense of the other household.
Be careful not to replace love, cuddles and normality with substitutions through excessive gifting and presents.
You want your child to enjoy being with you, not see you as the promised land for everything that they want in their life.
To promote better contact and exchanges of communications, expense tracking and scheduling for contact times, think about looking at one of the separated parent apps now available on most mobile platforms. One that McKenzie Law Partners find used a lot is called our family wizard. It helps to take issues out before they become significant problems.
Your child’s future is important.
Remember that, in your child's future, there will be times when your child will need both parents to be present.
There will be events such as the first day at a new school, significant birthdays, and, well into the future, marriage and/or children.
It would be nice for them if they could have a photograph with both their mum and dad in it — because when the parents have separated, things like family photos are rare or non-existent.
Good memories are worth making.
It is important to visualise a time beyond what has happened and the difficulties experienced in separation, divorce and #ChildArrangements.
At some point, both parents have to let go of the past. It only serves to keep you bitter.
Better to accept that relationships fail and things don’t always last forever.
Then you can move forward and try and create a brighter future.
Your child will appreciate you for doing that.
Nobody says you must be friendly and intertwined in each other’s lives as separated adults.
However, finding a way to be cordial and pleasant for your child’s sake is something you need to make peace with.
And the sooner, the better.
To recap, remember that your child needs stability and routine. They don’t need to be constantly showered in gifts. They have basic needs around love and comfort, nutrition and warmth, and finding happiness as they step into their future.
You can still make a picnic and go to the park. Make the time count.
Give your child the happiness they deserve.
And give yourself the happiness that you deserve and which children bring.
It is, after all, why you had children in the first place!