|Babies and Divorce|
Holding your baby in mind during a separation and/or divorce
by Sheetal Vallabh (Joburg based 'Babies in mind' practitioner)
In my practice I’ve seen a growing number of divorcing parents who have young children and infants. Many parents are unsuspecting of how their separation and/or divorce will have an impact on their baby, as they believe that their baby is “too young to know what’s going on”. The problem with this mistaken view is that parents agree to arrangements such as where the baby should live and how often the baby should be moving between parents’ homes, based on what suits them best, or based on what they believe to be their RIGHT.
Most parents sincerely want what’s best for their baby, however they are misguided by commonly held societal beliefs about what baby’s need. The most dangerous belief being that baby’s just need to be fed, changed and put to bed. Your baby also has emotional needs that are important for his or her psychological development. These needs include feeling safe and secure, being tuned into so that (s)he feels understood and at one with you, being exposed to and stimulated by different environments and toys, and the need to play. Most importantly your baby needs YOU to have all these needs met.
Hold in mind Jenny’s recommendation: “Babies need different things at different times, depending on circumstances and on who they are as people … do what you can to adjust your life accordingly to let that happen.” (my emphases)
Therefore if you are separating and/or divorcing do not forget who your baby is and hold your baby in mind when you are deciding on arrangements that affect your baby’s day-to-day routine and schedule. As with any life-stage, your baby has developmental tasks to accomplish and master. In order for your baby to be free to engage in baby-work, it is important that you protect your baby from conflict, turmoil and disruptions as this kind of environment will make it hard for your baby to feel safe enough to separate from you, explore and play.
Separating and/or divorcing take its toll on the whole family. The inevitable changes and the difficult feelings make it hard to focus on others’ needs, including the needs of your baby. For this reason, I strongly recommend meeting with a family and divorce mediator who works in a child-focused/inclusive way to help you create a parenting plan (a document that sets out all the details related to the care and wellbeing of your children). In this process you will be provided with input and guidance on what arrangements will work best for your baby given his or her developmental stage. A professional working in this way will help you understand the impact of your separation and/or divorce on your baby and help you think about how you can protect your baby from feeling unsafe and out of sync. Your family is unique and therefore you should create a parenting plan that accommodates both the needs of your baby and your family’s circumstances so that your baby can continue to thrive physically and emotionally and enjoy a predictable and comforting relationship with both parents.
Sheetal Vallabh is a ‘Babies in Mind’ practitioner, a clinical psychologist and a family and divorce mediator, who previously practiced as an attorney. She provides specialised therapeutic interventions for adults, couples as well as families, and she facilitates therapeutic support groups. As a family and divorce mediator, she assists families with creating post-separation and divorce arrangements and she includes the children in the process.
Her credentials include:
BA LLB (UCT), LLM (Wits), MA (Clinical Psychology) (UCT)
Family & Divorce Mediation (Basic-Advanced Training) (Family Zone, Johannesburg)
Child-Informed Family Dispute Resolution Training (Family Transitions, Melbourne, Australia)