As Valentine’s Day approaches, let’s take a minute to consider the downside of love; breaking up. Most of us would like to believe that everlasting love is not just the stuff of fairy tales and Hallmark cards. Yet, except for those lucky few who find their soul mate the first time around, the sad truth is that most people will experience the heartache of the end of a relationship at some point in their lives. When the relationship involves children, breaking up can be complicated, especially if one party is attempting to keep the other from seeing the children.
Fortunately, this is becoming harder to do. One of the best things to come out of the gay rights movement is the granting of custody and visitation rights to non-biological parents. Until recently, non-biological parents were at the mercy of their child’s biological parent in the event of a break-up. While many biological parents recognized the importance of keeping their former partners involved in their children’s lives, others used the lack of legal recognition to sever ties between them, often to the detriment of both the ex and the child.
So what about couples who are not legally married, or blended families in which there was no second parent adoption? Unless there is an issue that would make it unsafe for the children to spend time with an ex (substance abuse, for example), it is generally in the children’s best interests to be allowed, and even encouraged, to maintain contact with their parent’s ex after a split.
Children are often confused and frightened by a break-up of the adults in their lives. If they never witnessed any fighting or disagreements, they might be taken entirely by surprise when they are told about an impending split. It would not be unusual for a child to wonder if his or her own behavior had caused the problem. Consequently, it is very important for the adults to reassure the children that they are loved unconditionally and that whatever problem led to the break up had nothing to do with them.
If you are a couple in this situation, then you already know that doing what’s best for the children can be very difficult. It can mean maintaining contact with a person you might rather not see, perhaps someone who has hurt you, or with whom you are still in love and trying to get over. It could mean being civil to an ex’s new partner, which is especially difficult if that person was involved in the split. Or, it could merely mean that forging a friendship with your ex has to happen sooner rather than later.
It is important to be mindful of your own emotions and how you convey them. You must respect the love that your children and your ex have for each other. Do not allow yourself to badmouth your ex to the children, nor attempt to get information about your ex’s activities by “casually” asking them questions. Kids are more aware of this kind of prying than you might think, and putting them in a position to spy for you can make them feel disloyal and torn by their double allegiances. Try not to lose sight of the fact that you brought your partner into your child’s life because you believed that they would be a family, and the bonds they have formed are not yours to break.
By Chris McNamee