Coping with parental separation

Coping with parental separation

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Parental separation is one of the many challenges that young people can experience during their life.

We might experience our parents separating during childhood, adolescence or in early adulthood. Regardless of when it happens, parental separation can bring up many difficult feelings and every person will experience it differently.

You may experience some of the following:

  • Sadness. When circumstances change in our parent’s relationship, this can lead to feelings of sadness. When we feel sad, we might notice a change in our mood, and we may not enjoy the things we usually get joy from.
  • Confusion. We may feel confused about what is happening in our family. We may feel like we are stuck in the middle of things at times or uncertain about what will happen in our future.
  • Guilt. At times we may feel guilty about the feelings we experience and thoughts we have about the separation.
  • Relief. We might feel a sense of relief when our parents come to an agreement about what will happen next.
  • Anger. We could feel angry about what is happening in our family and how things have changed.
  • Blame.  Sometimes when we are trying to understand what is happening, we may blame ourselves or others.
  • Loss. We may feel loss for how our family has changed.

Remember that parents choose to separate for many different reasons that are to do with their relationship. It is not your fault.

Jigsaw clinician
Regardless of when it happens, parental separation can bring up many different feelings and every person will experience it differently.


Parental separation can cause things to change and these changes can influence where we live or who we live with. It can mean changes to relationships within our family or how much time we get to spend with our parents. Our parent’s feelings towards each other can sometimes change, and this might be difficult to understand or accept.

It can be easy to jump to conclusions or to attempt to predict the future. However, try not to make assumptions about what may or may not be going on. Ask questions about the future to try to clarify the situation if there are things you don’t understand.

It’s OK to ask questions about what has happened but there may be some things your parents aren’t able to or don’t want to tell you about. Regardless of how you may feel about it, what has happened within your parents’ relationship is their business and you need to respect their boundaries. Focus on your relationship with each of your parents rather than their relationship with each other.

Adjusting to the change

Continue to take part in as many of your normal day-to-day activities as possible. When things are changing at home, it can really help to keep some things the same. For example, spending time with friends or doing other things we enjoy.

Think about how you would like to spend future occasions with family members such as birthdays, Christmas, Eid, Barmitzva and so on. However, remember it is likely that there will need to be some compromise and negotiation about this.

Remember to keep communicating with your parents about what is happening and how you are feeling because you are important too. You could also talk to a supportive adult such as another family member, teacher or tutor, coach or friend. Show yourself some kindness during this time, self-care is important.

Jigsaw clincian
Our parent’s feelings towards each other can sometimes change, and this might be difficult to understand or accept.

Express yourself

When parents separate, we tend to focus on how it will impact on them. We may see our parents becoming upset or tearful, or increasingly stressed or angry. Sometimes this can mean that we are more reluctant to talk to them about how we are really feeling about what is happening. However, we should try and pay attention to our own mental health. We need to find ways to express our emotions.

It is always a good idea to talk to someone. Additionally, here are some other ways to express feelings about the separation:

  • Journaling. This is simply writing down what is going on in your head. You could just write down key words, or it could be pages of thoughts. It can be paper based in a nice book, or you can use the notes section of your phone. You can jot down thoughts throughout the day, or wait until you have a block of time to focus on it.
  • Music. Many people who play instruments find that they can pour their emotions into their playing. It can be a great way to let go of some of the strong feelings that build up. Even if you can’t play, finding songs that express how you feel, either in the lyrics or the melody or beat can be really helpful.
  • Art. Like music, art is a form of expression. Some people find it helpful to express themselves through all sorts of artistic media. Perhaps try drawing, painting, collage, or crafting.
  • Exercise. Getting physical can be a way to release some pent up emotions. Exercise is also linked to positive mental health.

Let it go

Although parents separating can absorb our time and attention, it is important not to let go of other important things in our life. Trying to maintain a focus on the present and doing things to mind our mental health is important.

There are many things you can try to support yourself and your emotions. You might explore mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to what is going on for you in the present moment. This includes noticing what is going on in your body, your emotions and your mind, without casting judgement on this. You can read about some apps that help with mindfulness here.

Another option is to spend time with friends. Try to keep in touch with people close to you, and if you can, let them know what’s going on for you. Keep remembering the day to day stuff, like getting enough sleep and eating well and focus on things that have helped you manage difficult times in the past.

Coping with parental separation can be tough, regardless of how old you are when it happens. Giving it time, letting others support you along the way, and keeping an eye on the good things in your life can make all the difference.

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