Whatever their age, you will always see your child as your baby, even when they are fully-grown adults with homes and families of their own. We are often contacted by worried parents wondering how best they can support their child through a separation.

Learning of your child’s separation may be a huge shock, or it could be something that you have thought may be on the cards. Either way, it’s likely that you will have a supportive role to play, both for your child going through one of the toughest times of their life, and potentially supporting young children in your role as a grandparent.

It is of course hard to see someone you love experiencing a difficult time and being there for them is an important part of your continuing role as parent, once they have flown the nest, if your relationship allows this.

This article provides some top tips to help you find out the role that you can play if you find yourself in this situation.

How to support your child

  • Think about what supportive role you can play – the role you feel you can offer may of course depend on the type of relationship that you have: - Emotional support – don’t crowd them, but make sure that they know that you are reliable, a safe haven and a listening ear. Be an active listener. Don’t be judgmental and don’t make assumptions or form your own conclusions. - Practical support – what may help to take the pressure off day-to-day? Could this be giving them the chance of some personal space, looking after the children so that they can seek advice or go on a much-needed night out with friends? Perhaps helping with the shopping or some cooking, or offering a place to stay.
  • Separate your own emotions – a separation is similar to suffering a bereavement and it won’t just be the separating couple that are affected. Recognise that you will have feelings about the situation, but don’t burden your child with these. Turn to your own partner or friends for your own support.
  • Don’t try control things – the instinct will be to protect your child, but they will have to find their own way through the break-up, with your help and support.
  • Encourage them to seek professional support – depending on their situation, sources of support could include speaking to a divorce coach, a financial advisor, a therapist. Most importantly, they should seek legal advice at an early stage so that they know their rights and responsibilities.
  • Don’t talk badly about their ex and try not to take sides – remember that relationships break down for a multitude of reasons (and it’s likely you’ll never know the full story). Try to find acceptance for the situation as it is, and focus on the bigger picture, especially where young children are involved. Harmonious parenting (and grand-parenting) relationships are going to be vital to ensure that the separation impacts young children as little as possible.
  • Think about how best you can offer financial assistance – this could be helping them to set up home elsewhere, or to enable them to stay in their home as part of their financial settlement, or assisting with professional fees, if your own circumstances allow. Be aware of how such financial support may be viewed by the court, and think about whether you are loaning or gifting the money. If you would like the money to be returned when they are back on their feet again, make sure that you seek legal advice and get the proper paperwork drawn up to reflect this.

Where there are grandchildren to think about

  • Spend time with the grandchildren. Reassure them and let them know that you will always be there for them and that your relationship with them will not change. Don’t ask them about the situation at home – they may want to open up to you about this, but don’t push them for information
  • Have a united message about the situation. Agree with their parents and other grandparents what you will say about the situation.
  • Encourage your child to approach co-parenting positively. They need to figure out a way to communicate with their ex for the benefit of their children. There are some excellent resources that can help with this.
  • Work with the other grandparents. Where possible, maintain positive relationships all round. Just because your children are separating doesn’t mean that you have to take sides – this will not help the situation at all. Remember, there will be family events (such as birthdays and weddings) where you will all come into contact with each other.

Looking after yourself

If you have provided your child and their ex with financial support in the past, such as helping with the deposit for a property, it may be sensible for you to seek legal advice about the prospects of you recovering your investment or it being retained by your child.

Supporting your child and extended family through a separation can be emotionally draining and physically exhausting. Make sure that you are able to express your own feelings (to an appropriate listening ear), offload and look after yourself – you’ll be no good to your own child if you are exhausted and run down! If you have a partner of your own, make sure you look after your own relationship too. You may have different views on your child’s situation, but it’s important you pull together and that it doesn’t take its toll on your own relationship too.