Maintaining relationships with your children

When parents split up the questions about where the children will live and how will each parent get to spend time with them will naturally arise. 

It is important to keep your children informed about what you are planning and listen to their opinions too. Relate has some useful resources to help you plan living arrangements with your children.

The rest of this section looks at how to manage more trying situations, such as if one parent has to move away or if there is difficulty in keeping in contact with your children. 

Moving away

Although most parents hope to remain close by to one another so that children may go easily between their two homes, sometimes a parent may choose or may have to move away.

If a move is going to happen, consider how best to make sure that your children will be able to share their growing up with both of you. If it is too difficult to discuss this together, think about using a neutral person to help you – perhaps a friend or a family mediator.

Below is a few things to think about when planning a move: 

  • Think carefully about how you are going to explain the situation to your children. Children may worry a great deal about what moving away will mean and whether this is happening because of something they have done or said. Reassurance about how they will keep in touch and share their time with each of you will be essential. 

  • Everyone needs support and if one of you needs to be with family and friends who are far away that is understandable. Equally, your children need to have their own support networks too. Think carefully about the pros and cons of uprooting them from their support networks and particularly about taking them away from their other parent.

  • If your children know that you are thinking of moving away, think about who they can talk to about what is happening. They may not feel able to discuss it with either of you as they may be worried about upsetting you. A neutral family member, god-parent, or close family friend may be able to provide a listening ear for them.

  • If your need to move is because things are really tough for you, think about the extra stress you may cause by making a rushed decision. Try to think about other ways in which you can get breathing space to think through your choices. A short break away may help, time with supportive friends or family members may give you a fresh perspective.

  • Remember that moving away may also leave you with less support. As parents, you can find ways of sharing the care that supports both you and your children. If you move away, that support may be more difficult to find.

  • Try not to panic and listen to your ex. They may have very good reasons why they feel they must move away, or they may be in a position where they have no choice but to move. They may be just as worried as you as to how best to arrange things for the children.

  • If you are worried about your legal rights as a parent whether you are the parent intending to move or the parent concerned about your child being moved, get some early legal advice. You should ensure that you speak to a specialist family solicitor. One of Resolution’s family solicitors may be able to help. Find a Resolution member near you.

  • If you are moving away because of harm that has happened within your relationship, it is essential that you get early legal advice and proper support for yourself and your children.

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Keeping in contact

For some parents, there may be very real difficulties in maintaining contact with their children for a range of reasons. Supporting your children and keeping in touch will be important to you and for them.

  • Children today recognise that ‘family’ are the people who love and care for them rather than those they live with or spend time with regularly. For a child, knowing who both their parents are and being able to spend time with each of them is important. If you can’t spend time with your children, keep in touch in whatever way you can.
  • Contact can be maintained in many ways. If phoning, Skype or email are not options, cards or letters are useful. Try not to be too emotional in your letters. They may also be missing you a great deal too and may feel guilty if they think that you are being made unhappy by not seeing them.
  • If you cannot keep in any kind of contact with your children or your contact is very limited, think about keeping a record of what has happened in your life (and in that part of their family) for when it will be possible for you to see them or to pass this record on to them.
  • Keeping a scrapbook of photographs and memories of significant times for you and other family members is a great way to let your children know you are thinking about them even when you can’t be with them. Perhaps you can record what you were doing on each of their birthdays or at Christmas and any thoughts that you had about them and what they might be doing on those significant days and dates.
  • You might also want to keep a ‘memory box’ of photographs, cards and other things that you have done and how it might have a link to them.

Don’t give up

It might seem easier to give up if you are being denied contact with your children. 

It isn’t. Nearly all children want to know who their parents are. Children may not know or understand why you gave up on being in contact with them and may blame themselves.

Having a parent who is a stranger is tough for any child or young person. They may be less able to make sense of how and why that happened and may be angry that they have not had the chance to know you.

Be aware that older children and teenagers may try to make some kind of contact with you. If they do, remember not to place them in a position of having to keep secrets from the parent they live with. Social networking sites and other internet based people searches makes it much easier for them to find you.

Discuss how you can support them to talk to their other parent about their wish to spend time with you. Explain that as their parent, it is your responsibility to try to work out with their other parent how things might be arranged that would allow them to share their time with each of their parents.

Running away

Some children and teenagers demonstrate their unhappiness at being kept from their other parent by running away. Often, they may run to their other parent. If this happens, try to work together as parents to understand where the children want to be and why. Try to ensure that your children feel able to go happily between their two homes rather than see one as an alternative to the other.

If you are the parent the children run to, try not to blame the other parent. Instead, try to work together to help your children resolve their unhappiness and feel able to share their time with both of you.

When parents split up the questions about where the children will live and how will each parent get to spend time with them will naturally arise. 

It is important to keep your children informed about what you are planning and listen to their opinions too. Relate has some useful resources to help you plan living arrangments with your children.