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Calm in the Eye of the Family Storm

They say that home is where the heart is. In my experience, there is a lot of wisdom in this statement. Your happiness at home and the security of your family bond is the springboard that you leap from to tackle your daily challenges. Unfortunately when things start to break down at home that foundation often starts to crack and people are left in a very difficult place. When children are involved the stakes are even higher. It then becomes critical to have coping mechanisms.

Coping mechanisms are the behaviors, strategies and emotional regulation skills you can employ in the face of stress. They help you confront and deal with that stress. Having adequate coping strategies and knowing when and how to seek the right kind of help can make all the difference to a child going through a family separation or divorce, not to mention the parents themselves.

Sharla Schofield is a counsellor with over 35 years’ experience helping parties and children through difficult times. Over the course of that time she has seen a lot and learned what kind of coping mechanisms can help people and children through family breakdown. I spoke with Sharla and was lucky enough to tap into some of her experience and tips in this regard. The most basic of these represent simple steps that you can take to insulate your family as much as possible from the conflict and stress that family breakdown or conflict gives rise to.

First, when storms appear on the horizon of your family you should take proactive steps to build up your own self-care and find resources to work through your own stress, anxiety and grief. In short, get your ship in order and batten down the hatches. This way you will be prepared so you can maximize your availability to your children and ability to be aware of, and respond to their needs, concerns and questions.

Part of that is ensuring that you have your own network of support in place. Speak to your family and friends and tell them that you anticipate some rough days ahead. Tell them that you will need their advice and support. Sometimes a good friend can make a world of difference.

It will also help if you try and keep to your routines as much as possible. Often separation involves moving and not seeing your children as often. That can be very stressful and disturbing to you and your children. Adhering to routines will give you and more importantly your children a familiar structure to their day and week and help shield the full impact of a separation.

Simply because a relationship is breaking down doesn’t mean that you can’t try and agree with your partner about some rules of the game. One such rule should be to agree not to expose the children to conflict. Try and build guidelines with your spouse about where and when you (and your family and friends) can talk privately without exposing your children to conflict. That can be difficult when emotions run hot but it is extremely important.

Another point that should be agreed to by you and your spouse is to both provide reassurance to the children that you and your spouse still love and care for them and that their needs will be still be provided for. If you have to move, build up the new location. Try your best to never speak ill of your partner, no matter what. Make sure that both you and your spouse see the children as often as possible and on a regular basis.

Finding middle ground with your spouse about anything during family breakdown can be a challenge. There are resources that you can tap to help you find a way to still communicate and work together on issues regarding the kids even in the most challenging of times. The Parenting After Separation course is a provincially funded course aimed at just that. In addition to the host of private counsellors such as Sharla available in Kelowna there are also provincially-funded counselling services with specific eligibility available through Kelowna Family Centre and Kelowna Youth and Family Services, including the children’s group, “Children of Change”. Family turmoil always takes a toll. It makes you question your basic assumptions. You are bound to experience a number of significant life changes in quick succession. It helps to have some strategies in place to brave the storm and minimize the impact on children. With the hatches battened down and the sails trimmed for foul weather you’ve got a good shot of sailing through to calmer seas.

This article has been written by Michael Sinclair. Michael is a family and commercial litigation lawyer at Doak Shirreff Lawyers LLP and is licensed to practice law in both British Columbia and Alberta. Contact Michael directly at 250-979-2521 or at [email protected].

This article is intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice. The legal issues addressed in this article are subject to changes in the applicable law and the merits of any potential claim are always fact dependent. Readers should not take legal action, or refrain from taking legal action, in reliance on the information contained in this article without first obtaining legal advice specific to their situation.