While a shared custody arrangement might seem like the best choice for everyone involved after separation, it is not always easy. Learning how to deal with being separated from your children when it’s the other parents turn to have access can be just as devastating and challenging, if not more so, than the separation from your ex-partner was. You might be wondering, what is parental anxiety? What can you do about it? And what do you do if your anxiety is due to safety concerns for your children? Let’s take a look.
What is parental anxiety?
Taking care of a child is a big responsibility. Most parents or caregivers feel anxious occasionally, and this is completely normal. However, for some, parental anxiety can become so intense that it impacts on the quality of, not only their life, but also their children's.
Parental anxiety is a term used to describe the anxiety someone feels relating to being a parent or a caregiver. It can involve worrying about your child’s:
- Performance at school
- Social life
- Care when not with you
Parental anxiety can affect people caring for children of any age and is quite common after separation, when your custody arrangement means your children are moving between homes.
Symptoms of parental anxiety include:
- Feeling restless, wound up or on edge
- Feeling worried more than normal
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Have difficulty sleeping
- Being more irritable
- Suffering from headaches, muscle aches or stomach pain
While it is accepted that parenting comes with a certain level of anxiety, people suffering from parental anxiety may:
- Avoid putting their child in a relatively safe situation because they perceive it as harmful
- Share feelings of worry and stress to other people, including the child
- Have consistent thoughts that something bad could happen to their child
What can you do about parental anxiety?
No one wants to live under a cloud of anxiety. The good news is, there are things you can do to alleviate your parental anxiety and make your custody agreement more pleasant for everyone involved.
Stop the guilt
One of the main sources of parental anxiety is guilt over the separation. You may find yourself saying things like:
- I chose to separate and now I must be without my kids
- This is my punishment for my marriage/relationship failing
- I am a horrible person
- Who sleeps in the same house as their children every night?
It is important to keep in mind that you are not being punished and neither are your children. Children are resilient.
Take a moment to remind yourself that your ex-partner is a good parent (even if they were not a good partner). When your child is with their other parent, they are with the only other person in the world who loves them as much as you do, and they will do their best for them.
Enjoy the time you have with your kids
Any custody arrangement is going to bring about time without your kids, and as the saying goes “you don’t know what you have until it's gone”. Thankfully, when it comes to sharing access, the children always return.
You might have less time with your kids now, but that means you can really focus on them and ensure that your time (and theirs) is enjoyable. It is also good for a parent to have a break, give yourself permission to do so.
Don’t overthink it. You don’t have to be off on adventures all the time to have an enjoyable time with your children. Going for a walk, cooking dinner together and even scratching their back while they watch tv are all meaningful ways to connect with your child while they are with you.
When you start to feel yourself getting anxious when they are with their other parents, you will have lots of good moments to think back on to help ease the discomfort.
Learn to enjoy alone time
This can be one of the most challenging things to relearn as your custody agreement comes into action. You probably haven’t been alone for quite some time and just going to the toilet can feel strange without a young child hanging around the door.
Life is too short to spend any time sitting around being miserable, so don’t spend your alone time tying yourself in knots over something outside of your control. Find some activities you can do for yourself that bring you joy. Coffee with friends, yoga, even some study might be just what you need to refresh yourself for your children’s return.
Once you learn to enjoy time with yourself, you will find yourself anticipating it and making plans in advance. When this happens, don’t feel guilty about it. If you asked your children, they would want you to enjoy your time alone. They would not want you sitting around home waiting for their return.
Talk to your kids about your alone time
Your children want to hear about your adventures. You may feel like withholding this information is protecting them from feeling unloved but often the opposite is true.
Sharing with your children what you have done or what you plan to do is a great way of showing them that you are okay and enjoying your time when they are away. Children are often relieved and happy to know their parents are alright, and this allows them to relax when they are with their other parent. You don’t want your children spending their time worrying about you.
What if you have genuine concerns?
Sometimes, parents have genuine concerns about their children’s safety when they are with their other parent. If you believe you have a genuine reason to worry, then the best idea is to get in touch with an experienced family lawyer as soon as you can.
An experienced family lawyer will listen to your concerns and work with you to create a plan that addresses your concerns and allows you to have a custody arrangement that is in the best interests of your child.
Often, where there are safety concerns, an independent third party will be involved to investigate any matters. They will prepare a report for the courts with their findings which the courts will use to determine what type of custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child.
Would you like help with your custody arrangement?
Here at Joliman Lawyers, we understand how complicated parenting after separation can be, particularly when you have concerns for your children’s welfare. We provide family coaching, parenting coordination and mediation or family dispute resolution services (if required) to assist families to reach a custody agreement that works for everyone.
Get in touch today to find out more about how we can help you get through the challenging times.