Supporting children when working with separating parents - part two

Episode 149 October 29, 2023 00:32:29
Supporting children when working with separating parents - part two
Emerging Minds Podcast
Supporting children when working with separating parents - part two

Oct 29 2023 | 00:32:29

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Show Notes

In this episode, we explore ideas and practices for supporting parents to be child-focused in their approach to post-separation parenting.
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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: You before we get into today's podcast, if you haven't heard, Emerging Minds is currently running the 2023 National Workforce Survey for Child, Parent and Family Mental Health. If you work in health, social, community services sectors, this is your chance to have your say and be in to win one of five iPads. The survey helps shape child mental health policy, inform advocacy, and guide the development of future Emerging Minds resources to support your work. And you don't have to work directly with children or in mental health to participate. The survey is open now until the 15 November 2023. Head over to Emergingminds.com Au to complete the survey today and keep an eye on the website for future releases of the results. [00:00:46] Speaker B: Talking with parents around the values that they hold and what they want for their parenting relationship is almost the most important thing because that is the foundation that you build upon. But it takes the emphasis of the dynamics between the two adults in the situation and places it on the importance of the child or children's well being. [00:01:11] Speaker C: Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast. [00:01:17] Speaker D: Hi everyone. My name is Chris Dolman, and I work with emerging minds. This is the second of a three part series that explores ideas and practices for supporting children's mental health when working with separating parents. Separating families come into contact with a range of practitioners during separation, such as GPS and educators and school counsellors, allied health professionals, and generalist counsellors. So it's important that all practitioners have the understandings and skills to support parents and children during this time. Emerging Minds recently consulted with a number of practitioners to understand how they go about supporting children's mental health when working with separating parents. We also spoke with parents who've navigated relationship separation about what they felt was important in terms of how practitioners can support parents and children through this period. In the first episode, we discuss practices for supporting parents own wellbeing during relationship separation and how this is not only important in itself, but also in turn supports the wellbeing of children. In this second episode, we'll be exploring ideas and practices for supporting parents to be child focused in their approach to parenting through relationship separation. And in episode three, we'll be discussing ways to support parents to support their own children during separation. But let's get into today's episode. [00:02:27] Speaker E: Obviously as a parent you try to be as child focused as you can be. Not always possible. If you're run down, if you're stressed, you're trying to juggle too many balls at one time, you're not going to be focusing on the child, unfortunately. So that's when we'd love some support of some kind. [00:02:45] Speaker D: That was Vanya, one of Emerging Mind's family partners and a parent who has navigated relationship separation. Parents who take a child focused approach to parenting support positive outcomes for their children's well being, and practitioners who are working with parents can support them to maintain a focus on their children's mental health and wellbeing, I was interested to understand for practitioners how they go about supporting parents to take this child focused approach. And I asked Helen McMullen, a service manager with Uniting Communities, about what does child focus mean really when working with separating parents. [00:03:17] Speaker F: I think from the moment they make contact with the family relationship centre, we are already introducing the language that we'll be using all the way through. So we do talk about being child focused and explain what it is to be child focused and future focused. We really do want to understand what happened in the relationship, to put it into context, but we're also really interested to look at what they think a future focus will look like for their children. So once we've sort of got the understanding of the history, we then like to move on and acknowledge that it didn't work and that we have a fairly good rounded picture of the family's separation. But what do they want for their children moving forward? So child focus is where every conversation that we have has the children in the conversation as what's important. So if we are talking about what a parent needs, it's not being child focused. If they talk about in the context of what is being missed in the child's life, it's not being child focused. We want to hear how they're thinking of the children in all of their decisions and if we can't hear it, it's not being child focused. They're thinking about parent needs, their own fears, they're needing to maybe want the children more than what the children's needs and rights are. So we keep teasing out the rights of the children and the parents'responsibility so that they do see that the focus is on children and not necessarily know that grief and loss that parents are experiencing and wanting to keep their children close. [00:05:07] Speaker D: I asked Helen for an example of how she might do that. [00:05:10] Speaker F: In any mediation we would ask them to consider if the child was in the room, how would you be speaking about the arrangements? We don't ask children to make decisions, we ask parents to make the decisions based on what's in the best interests of children. But it can help temper language and keep in mind that there are children who are relying on parents to make good decisions. [00:05:37] Speaker D: Alicia Akintoye, a family law counsellor with relationships, Australia, South Australia, describes how being child focused shapes her practice. [00:05:45] Speaker G: I think the way that I work, it's something that sits in the background for me. I wouldn't necessarily say to a know, let's move into a child focused lens because it's very hard to shift and I think it can maybe come of a bit of judgment. I try not to use the jargon that I would use with my colleagues with parents because I want them to feel empowered when they leave a session with me. I don't want them to feel like, oh, I don't really know what she's talking about when she says child focused. Am I not child focused? So I try to lead them, lead the session into that direction, but not actually name it in that way. [00:06:21] Speaker D: So what are the challenges that accompany a child focused approach? [00:06:25] Speaker G: I think one of the biggest challenges is supporting parents to remain focused on the child and on what they can control in the child's world. Often when there's been a separation, there's still a lot of hurt, there's still a lot of guilt sometimes. And depending on how the parents separated, there could be some animosity towards the other parent. So conversations often turn towards what the other parent isn't doing or what's happening in the other parent's home and things that are out of control with the parent that I have in the session right there with me. So that's a huge challenge to get them to focus on what they can control, on building a nurturing environment for themselves and for their children. I like to speak into that with parents, and I like to say to them that if you look at this like a book, there's chapters that they can flick back to. And there's the marriage, there's the separation, there's all of those things, but there's also a whole bunch of blank pages ahead. And you get to pick how those pages are filled. So you get to pick how your home is decorated, where you live, what rules happen in your home, and how your children feel in that home with you. So I try to always bring them back into the child focus without naming it. [00:07:40] Speaker D: I asked Alicia for an example of a practice challenge or dilemma. [00:07:44] Speaker G: I think in talking with parents, one of the things that can come up is maybe when children talk about what's happened in Mum's house or what's happened in Dad's house, and then parents respond to that. Because, like I said before, sometimes there's still a lot of hurt and a lot of grief, and parents may not be in the space where they can hear about those things and respond appropriately. So sometimes there's some conversations around. How important do you think it would be if little Sophia could tell you what she did over the week when she was with Mum and talking around? Even responses that they can give to children that may not be positive, they might not be there yet, but even just, oh, it's really great that you had that time in the park with your mum and moving on, because that sends a message to the children that I can talk about what happens in Mum's house. I can talk about what happens in Dad's house. And that's not a big problem. And I think a lot of conversations around transitions as well. They do sometimes pose some issues because during transitions, children can see mum and dad interacting with each other, and there's not always positive interactions happening there. So again, asking into, what do you think your daughter noticed? If the two of you are silent and there's no conversation at all, what do you think it will mean to them if you were able to say, hello, how are you? And then getting them to see things through their child's eyes and what the child may be taken away from those interactions, but that can be challenging. [00:09:19] Speaker D: I asked Helen McMullen to say a bit more about what she's referring to when she talks about inviting parents to be future focused. [00:09:26] Speaker F: For us, it's really when we hear parents drawing back to previous conflicts or what happened on the weekend, or what didn't go well, that's not being future focused, it's drawing back into all of the conflict. And we talk to parents about the language of the parent not getting hand over at the right time, or the parent not letting me go to football matches. That's the conflict speaking. It's not actually being future focused. So we just draw attention to the conversation that they have about that's what's happened. But what do you want in the future for your children? Because some parents need a future focus that might be in the next couple of months. Some parents might need a future focus over the next couple of years. Each parent will have a different lens of what future focus is and what they can manage. So we really encourage reviewing arrangements as best that they can agree on what the future is. So it's a living document. Your children are going to be with you until they're adults. What is it that we can support you with in order to bring the future focus arrangements to life and how are you going to hopefully improve your relationship with each parent so that the children will be the winners? So that future focus is taking away the crisis that's happening now and diluting the potency of the conflict to think about where are we going to be in 510, 15 years time? And how will our children look back on this and think, did we do it well or didn't we do it well? [00:11:17] Speaker D: Parents Vanya and Jocelyn spoke about the importance of practitioners focusing on parents'strengths as they discussed their experience of relationship separation and their children's well being. [00:11:26] Speaker E: I think practitioners can focus on the strengths of the parent. That what they're doing already, because then that will make the parent feel like, oh, actually, I am doing okay. So focus on what their strengths of what they're doing right now and ask them, how do you want to be in a few months time and how can I help you get to that stage? I think by that there's so much advice out there on what makes you a good parent, you should be doing it that way. Oh, don't do it that way. And so then if you've got one more person, say a practitioner someone who you value, if they're also saying, well, you shouldn't be doing it that way, you need to be doing it this way. So it would be to be more sensitive to that idea. So that's what I mean about don't put it in our face because we're already probably struggling with the fact that we're not maybe doing the best we can. So then the practitioner could then sort of turn around and not put it in their face, but bring it back to, oh, so what is working when your child does this? How do you go about managing that situation? Say, give positive feedback or make slight suggestions that sounds like you're doing it the right way, but other parents have found this work, so it's not directly you need to do this as a parent. It's more like in my experiences I've had other parents do this and it worked for them, something like that. [00:12:56] Speaker B: So it's really important for practitioners to put their judgments to one side and to listen curiously, to listen well and to listen curiously, and no parent wants to parent poorly. So there will be absolutely strengths in that parent relationship that the practitioner can draw upon and make bigger draw attention to, along with looking at aspects where some changes might be needed. [00:13:29] Speaker D: Jocelyn and then Alan, another parent we consulted with, spoke about the usefulness of exploring with practitioners the values they want to hold onto as they navigate separation. [00:13:38] Speaker B: I would say that talking with parents around the values that they hold and what they want for their parenting relationship is almost the most important thing because that is the foundation that you build upon. But it takes the emphasis of the dynamics between the two adults in the situation and places on the importance of the child or children's well being. And perhaps that's a really important way to navigate the difficulties of separation. [00:14:10] Speaker H: Every parent wants their child to do well. How well is another question. But the positive aspects from it would be to reveal, I guess, the values that they want for their child, whether it be safe or whether it be finished school, at least things like that. Because ultimately you want to live how you want to live with your children, whether it be together with your partner or not. You still want to have the same sort of things that you want to show them or teach them. So you're just doing it by yourself. You have to try and dig out and find the words to describe what you're normally doing. And you don't really take notice of what you're doing day to day because you just do it. It's what you believe in as what's beneficial and what you want to put onto your children, so to speak. [00:15:09] Speaker D: Alicia Akintoye believes that conversations with parents about their values can be highly significant in supporting children's well being. And she agrees with Alan that it's not a very familiar conversation for parents? [00:15:21] Speaker F: Yes. [00:15:22] Speaker G: I don't think it's a very common conversation, even if you're not a parent, to think about what are your values, what kind of drives you throughout the day and what are you holding on to? So the counseling space is a wonderful place to do that and I think parents often appreciate that able to kind of introspectively look into what's important to them. What can I pass on to my children as well? I think when they picture their child as an 18 year old it's always quite powerful to wonder what this adult will say about their childhood. Yeah, I might ask them something as if when your child is 18, how do you want them to talk about this timing their lives or what sort of values do you want them to hold and what will you be noticing when they're living those values? What can you do day to day to help them to know that those values are important to you? So that's really bringing the parent back to I have control over my house, my home, my world right now. That's especially if there was some family or domestic violence involved. So it's very important for them to feel that sense of control. But also I have a say in what my children grow up to know and to believe and the relationship that they have with me. [00:16:40] Speaker D: I asked the practitioners about their approaches to exploring with parents the different possibilities for child focused post separation parenting. I started by asking Roxanne Nathan if she could draw some distinction for us between the terms co parenting and parallel parenting. [00:16:55] Speaker I: I think often when people have come in either through having had advice from a lawyer first or doing any kind of googling around the family law system, they will come across the term coparenting. Coparenting is the term that has been coined by the sector and I think that comes from the idea of when the Family Law Act was changed to 2007. When it was changed then and it was decided that there was this idea of the best interests of the child, they had to give a label to how parents were expected to behave within the best interests of the child and so they used the term coparenting. Now, Coparenting, as it is delivered to children requires two parents to be highly communicative, highly resilient to their own feelings and also highly resilient to the constant changing needs of their child. [00:17:50] Speaker D: Could you provide an everyday example of coparenting? [00:17:53] Speaker I: So an example of really good coparenting, like the gold standard of coparenting would be a child says, oh, I've left my teddy bear at Dad's house. And that parent then says, oh great, we'll give dad a call. We'll ask him if we can go pick up the teddy bear. And that is all managed in a really highly respectful way. Child gets their teddy bear. Parents have been able to say hello, goodbye, maybe even have a cup of tea or something like that together and then they go about their normal routine. For lots of families, particularly within twelve months of separation, that is highly impossible really. There's so much grief and loss that is still attached to that point that the idea of coparenting also gets sort of swapped and changed as people are going through that grief and loss as well. When I talk to parents, I often like to let them know that's not the only way to parent and they can use things like parallel parenting, for example, where parallel parenting is there's rules in Mum's home, there's rules in dad's home. How they are supported by the parent who's not in that home, by the opposing parent is done through their parental values. So I often like to use an ice cream story when I'm working with parents. So it is at dad's house you can have any flavor ice cream any time of the day, as much as you want, anytime you want. That's the rule in dad's house. And at Mum's house there's no ice cream. And the way that the parents talk about the ice cream is the important part of the parallel parenting. So it may be that Mum says child comes home and says, I had all of this ice cream at dad's house and the response from Mum is, isn't that wonderful that you can share that time with your dad eating all of that ice cream and what yummy flavors you've had? So in our house we're going to eat more fruits and vegetables because that's going to counterbalance all the ice cream that you have. So one, the parent has talked about the ice cream in a way that's positive. So the rule in the other parent's house has been made to be a positive rule, but it also sticks to that parental value. If that parent wants to value more nutritional food then that's fine, they're able to do that in their home and that's the rule in their home. And it's also talked about positively in the other home as well. So dad will go, yep, I know you can have all this ice cream here because I know Mum prefers to give you fruit and vegetables and isn't that wonderful that you've got this balance between your two homes. Sometimes parents are able to better manage those ideas, which is just talking about the other parent in a positive way, rather than constant contact with the other parent or bigger decision making with the other parent. And that's where things like mediation can be highly critical for parallel parenting. The big things are decided in mediation with a third party and all you're managing outside of that is reading your parenting plan and those positive parenting statements when you're with your child. [00:20:44] Speaker D: I expect an ice cream metaphor would resonate with a lot of families and that's a helpful example from Roxanne. I then asked her about the extent to which children can manage those differences between the two homes. [00:20:55] Speaker I: So children can manage. What I will say to parents is the least amount of stress that you have as a parent is going to be the best outcome for your child. So if it is highly stressful for you to like, if you're coming in and you're saying, I want 50 50 co parenting, which is often the thing that people walk in with, let's have a think about that. You're telling me that you work full time. How are you going to manage drop off some pickups? How are you going to manage getting to soccer practice? How are you going to manage sleepovers at friends houses? All that kind of stuff. Like, let's map that out. And it's often then that parents realize there's this theoretical idea of 50 50 shared care and then there's what I can do. And then I'll start to talk to them about those jen Macintosh really critical frameworks of it's not about quantity of time, it's about quality of time. It's about when you're with your children that you're the best parent that you can be in that time, the least stressed that you can be in that time. And if that means that all you're able to manage is Wednesday to Saturday or Thursday to Sunday, that's okay, that's really fine because your child is going to get the best of you when they're with you. And then the rest of the time that actually works really well for the other parent. You can involve grandparents, et cetera, people that are going to be critical in that child getting what they need. And then what that child sees is, hey, everyone's, come to the party to help work this out with me, to make sure that I get the things that I need. So I'm going to feel calm, I'm going to feel regulated. I'm going to feel okay about this separation and what my new life looks like because all the adults around me are also feeling that way too. So I like to think that my role is to say, hey, there's more than one way of doing this. You don't have to stick to this idea that you've Googled or that someone's told you or your lawyers said to you. You can actually create a different space for you and your family, and what works for you and your family will not work for another family because you're an individual family. [00:22:53] Speaker D: Alicia Akintoye agrees and says it's important to expand possibilities for what parents might imagine post separation parenting can be. [00:23:01] Speaker G: So we talk a little bit around what isn't working, where are you struggling, what's not going right, and okay, if things continue like this, getting them to kind of frame it in their own minds around this was my idea of things, it's not helpful. We can't continue like this, okay, what else can we do? And then that could help them to shift a little bit into what would be helpful for myself, for the kids, how can we coparent together? And maybe changing the idea of coparenting again because like we said before, it's such a huge term and you really need to get into the sort of nitty gritty around, okay, what is going to be done day to day? What does communication look like? What do you need to communicate about and what do you not need to communicate about having those sort of conversations? [00:23:51] Speaker D: Roxanne says helping parents take a short term view can also be helpful. [00:23:55] Speaker I: Sometimes when I see parents that are in that real guts of the grief of the initial separation, I'll say let's make a plan for one term and then let's come back. And what has changed in that time? What have you seen work? What doesn't work? It's okay that we're taking baby steps and I give them that metaphor of the stepping stones, right, this is one stepping stone. Let's see how it goes for a school term and then let's come back and then let's make another stepping stone and let's see how that works. [00:24:24] Speaker D: Helen McMullen describes the approach of her team for exploring with parents the different possibilities for child focused post separation parenting. [00:24:31] Speaker F: I think for the parents that come to see us, they are seeking to understand what it might look like. We do ask parents after the child focused information session to actually rate themselves as whether they think they're coparenting well, whether they have a parallel parenting relationship or whether they are a conflicted parenting relationship. And we like to really look at how they've assessed themselves because there's very few parents who would probably say that they are coparenting well and a lot of them are identifying as conflicted parenting. And so we like to talk about being aspirational in moving from being conflicted parenting to the next level, which is our parallel parenting, and to consider what it would be like if you were in a workplace. How do you have relationships with colleagues? What's your communication style? You keep it brief, you keep it polite, you keep it focused on the topic. So let's choose the topic of your children and that's all you need to communicate about. You need to have a pathway for communication that doesn't include children and you are still looking at future focused. [00:25:58] Speaker D: Claire Daly is a child counsellor and parent educator with Centrecare Catholic Family Services. I ask Claire how she goes about inviting parents to look at things through their children's eyes. [00:26:07] Speaker F: I say things like if you put yourself, use the language, put yourself in your children's shoes, I wonder. And again, that's that curiosity. I wonder how this feels for your little one to know that when they go here this happens, or how would that feel? And I say to parents, we all love our children. Our children are so important to us. And they go, yeah, so how can we make that less? How can we lessen the impact of what we're doing? And I think for parents, when they see it like that, they change. I see change in parents if they can see it through their children's eyes. And I always say it's never too late. We talked about to resilience. It's never too late. How we change now will create change in their lives. How we separate is how children learn. So how they see us, how we manage conflict is how they will learn to do these things. So I often go back to it only takes one parent to change a child's life and let you be that parent, let you be the person that's going to be there. And if they can see that, if they can let go of that other parent and I do say to them it's time there's a transition from go from being ex partners to Coparents. And that's a big, big bridge to climb because what research shows we only need one good parent. So let that parent be you and not be responsible for the other person's behavior. They'll do what they will do. We have no control over that. But we can control how we respond or where we react to the other parent and their situation. So it's about presenting routine, stability, security, predictability, all those words. So if a child goes, oh well, I know I'm going to this parent's house next week, I'm okay because I'm going to go. And I know that I can call mum or dad whenever I want to and while I'm at the other home and that I can return and I'll be welcomed back in. And always say moving between homes for a child has to be seamless. So when you close one door and reach over and open the other, it shouldn't be a rocky road. It should just be a nice smooth transition. [00:28:24] Speaker D: I asked Claire to what extent does she seek to understand what being a good parent means for each parent she works with? [00:28:30] Speaker F: It's quite tricky because when I work I have a kind of an agenda. I want children to feel safe and happy and free to be themselves and grow like little beings should. So there is a level of trying to make parents see that being a good parent comes with a few things that need to be doing to reach that brief, if you like. And that does require a lot more of themselves which takes the focus off the other parent and puts it onto them. So it's like, okay, how do I as the parent that's being a responsible parent and a secure parent, how do I make sure that happens? And so you can, you can actually have some clear guidelines around communication, around not impacting the child in major decisions, but allowing the child's voice to be heard. So all those little things like that which takes the focus off the other. Parent, but onto, what am I doing as a parent? How can I do this better? [00:29:28] Speaker D: And here's Roxanne Nathan talking about bringing children's voices into conversations with parents. [00:29:33] Speaker I: I have to say, this is my most favourite part of post separation work, is working with parents around, bringing the voice of their children into the adult space. Sometimes it's really appropriate to have an actual voice of a child in that space. Sometimes it's appropriate to only have the developmental voice of a child in that space. It depends on the situation of the family. It also depends on the age and stage of the child. It depends on any disabilities that that child may have or any complexities around the child's mental health that might already be present. So I always like to begin with some of those caregiving questions around how they experience being parented by their parents and what they liked and didn't like about that time in their lives. So my intention in doing that is to actually draw them back to a time when they were children themselves. So often as an adult, you're concentrating on all the adult things that are happening, whether that be finances and mortgage and jobs and everything else in your friendships. And you're actually forgetting that this little person that's in your life has a lens of their own. And that lens is only nine years old or 14 years old or 16 years old or two years old, and they only have a certain amount of life experience that they can draw on. But you have many, many more years than that. So if you can go back to a time when you were two, 3516, what was that time like for you? What did you need that you maybe weren't getting? Or what did you have that you really felt strengthened your ability to be a young person in the world? And how can you take those things into your parenting of your child at this time of their life? [00:31:15] Speaker D: Well, that brings us to the end of this podcast episode. Thank you again to our guests, Emerging Minds family partners Joslyn Vanya and Alan for sharing their ideas and insights from their lived experience. And thanks to Roxanne Nathan, Alicia Akintoye, Helen McMullen and Claire Daly for generously sharing their practice reflections from their work with families. In the final episode of this three part series, we'll be exploring some practice ideas for supporting parents to support their children as the family navigates separation and divorce. These themes and more are covered in emerging Mind's online course Supporting Children's Mental Health when Working with Separating Parents. So if you're interested in this free online course, please visit our [email protected], au. Thanks again for joining us today and we look forward to your company next time. [00:32:00] Speaker C: Visit our website at WW dot emergingminds.com dot au to access a range of resources to assist your practice. Brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health led by merging minds. The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

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