A successful separation is one in which the parents separate from each other but do not require the child to separate from one of the parents, either as a result of parental conflict or by one parent not being available to the child.
The following quote nicely summarises this knowledge:
The current research examining the effects of divorce on children concludes that a constructive divorce in a family with children requires minimizing the psychological injury to children through continued relationships with both parents and an atmosphere of support and cooperation between the parents.
Thus, it is a well-established fact that a child experiencing the dissolution of the family structure will do better if the parents are able to get along and reduce trauma in an already traumatic experience. Co-parenting can be a viable option when it is implemented by parents who want it to work because they understand that the child’s needs supersede their own self-interest, and it can be successful and rewarding for both the child and the parents.
Impact of separation and divorce on children
There are many threatening and frightening things that happen to individuals whose relationship ends up in separation or divorce. When there are no children of the relationship, the adults can separate their lives relatively easily, albeit not without pain. For a child, however, the termination of a nuclear family is, most often, highly traumatizing. Children, who go through separation, and/or divorce, experience abandonment. Generally, this is also their primary fear. Younger children do not have the intellectual resources, or older children the emotional resources to understand this as anything other than, “I am being left by my parent!” When asked, “What do you worry about most?” They often respond with, “I am afraid I will never see one of my parents again.” When children of separation or divorce are asked, “What are your three wishes?” most will usually say something like, “I wish my Mom and Dad were back together.”
A central reason that divorce is so difficult for children is the fact that they have little life experience to understand why their parents would separate and what happens when a parent, or when both parents, leaves the family home. They frequently worry, “If ONE of my parents mysteriously left home today, who is to say that my OTHER parent won’t leave home tomorrow, and there will be nobody left to take care of me?”
Often, children are afraid to ask what will happen. They are afraid they may hear that their worst fear has come true – that their parents have indeed, permanently abandoned by their parents. And, if the parents do not explain what the separation means and doesn’t mean for the child, then the child may remain in a state of chronic anxiety.
Sometimes, this anxiety gets expressed as acting-out with aggressive and non-compliant behaviour, and sometimes it gets expressed as withdrawn behaviour, eating problems, sleeping problems, and/or school problems. So, if a child’s behaviour has changed from a usual pattern, it may simply be a red flag being waved saying, “I’m having difficulty dealing with this situation. Can you please help me by explaining what is going on?” Your child needs you to take time to explain in detail what the separation will mean to him or her. This is an excellent time to reassure your children that the separation and divorce are not their fault. It is not something they said, did, felt, or thought that made Daddy or Mommy leave. Give the child a simple explanation of why the separation did take place. Present it in a way that does not put down the other parent.