Have you heard of a 3rd space?

Have you ever benefitted from having a space away from home, away from work, away from your husband/partner/wife/significant other to just be free to say or do what you want to say or do without judgement shame or blame?

Have you ever experienced that sense of relief, that sense of freedom when you get to say what you want to say or feel what you want to feel? The feeling of that weight being lifted, your head feeling clearer, your heart feeling lighter, your body feeling free to move, your face feeling brighter, your head lifting and your breathing feeling deeper? Knowing that the more you are able to process the more capacity you have to be present and focused. 

It may well be that you are not able to change the parts of your life that you want to change and having the 3rd space provides an opportunity to feel seen, heard and validated.  You feel supported and connected. We are all wired for connection.

My parents divorce changed the course of my life and continues to do so.  

A friend once told me when I shared with her that I felt my mental health challenges stemmed from my parents divorce she said quite matter of factly “but that happened years ago, you need to get over it”.  And that’s the belief – that the divorce happened as an isolated event, a court process, with a completion date.  And we can all move on.

Except for the child there is very little support or understanding and very little compassion for the complex confusing emotionally draining that many children experience.  Not all of course, but many.  If you have had a positive experience of life following your parents divorce I am thrilled for you but you may want to stop reading now.

I didn’t have a 3rd space.  And it impacted my self-worth as a child and continues to be a complex confusing mix of emotional distress that requires me to take imperfect intentional action on a regular basis so that I can enjoy my life. 

It is a space that I now know I needed and didn’t have and it is a space I want to help others create for children of divorced parents.

We all need to have a space where we can easily off load the worries that we carry so that we can unburden ourselves of the events that have happened and the experiences that we have had or are having but for children of divorced parents this is essential for their developing self-worth. Self-worth is formed in childhood.

Without a 3rd space a child may become stuck between a rock and a hard place (you can decide for yourself which one is which) and without access to a regulated (nervous system) person who can hold space for them whilst they navigate the intense emotional distress and confusion that comes with divorce, their behaviours may become maladaptive and destructive to themselves and those around them. And they won’t be consciously aware that they are doing what they are doing because they are in a trauma state, their logical rational brain goes off-line and they are in survival mode. Constantly. And their brains are still developing (research shows that the human brain isn’t fully developed until 25).

According to Separated families statistics (see link below) in the financial year ending 2021 it is estimated that there were 2.3 million separated families and 3.6 million children in those separated families.


According to the office for national statistics https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce – 

The main reason sited by a parent for divorce is unreasonable behaviour followed by two- year separation, five year separation, adultery, desertion, and finally combination of unreasonable behaviour and adultery.

The statistics discuss :

the financial impact of the household after divorce 

the percentages of children living with a Parent in Care and the Non-resident parent 

What they don’t include is the outcomes for children impacted by divorce – divorce is classed as an Adverse Childhood Experience “ACEs” and children with ACE’s can lead to a higher risk for health and social problems in later life. We know these problems start in childhood. 


Advances in neuroscience and trauma research has proven that children are not too young to know what is happening they just don’t know how to process it so it can become internalised.  They are not resilient and bounce back easily without support,  they absorb information good and bad and this impacts their self worth. Their bodies retain the impact of trauma from the womb, through childhood and beyond and intergenerational trauma goes back 7 generations – we can choose to change this cycle and intentionally build and upgrade the self worth of our children (and our own during the process).

Self worth is created in childhood. If during childhood a child receives the message that they are 

Not important

Not good enough

Not loveable

Not worthy

This becomes their subconscious belief.  It feels like it is in your bones.  

This can lead to patterns of 

Self blame

Self loathing

Self rejection

Self abandonment

They then enter the school system and if they are fortunate to be in an environment which feels like a safe space, where their emotional distress can be seen, heard and validated and they have one safe regulated (nervous system) adult whom they can access when they need to then there is a chance that this subconscious belief can be changed.

It is more likely however that the school system is not a safe space where their emotional distress can be seen, heard and validated.

It is more likely that the reward and punishment system that most schools operate further compounds the emotional distress and the subconscious belief that they are 

Not important

Not good enough

Not loveable

Not worthy

This can lead to more 

Self blame,Self loathing, Self rejection, Self abandonment

When they are looking for connection and they can’t access it, their coping mechanisms for their emotional distress become shut down and disconnect, and their learning lights go out.  Or their need for connection leads to destructive behaviours that lead to further feelings of shame, rejection and abandonment (detention, isolation, attendance difficulties).

And the school system calls in the parents and the pressure to improve behaviours which leads to toxic stress for the child both at home and at school.

And they don’t have a 3rd space – they are the child. So they learn to lean on their peer group who are very often experiencing their own levels of emotional distress and they learn to accept whatever version of connection is available.  They learn to live in a state of protection and fear every single day.  They learn to mask, they create their own maladaptive coping strategies, which can range from positive looking strategies such as high achiever, people pleasing, doing, training, to more destructive strategies such as lying, emotional eating, restricting food, social media addition, anxiety, catastrophising, self sabotaging, teeth grinding, pain.

We encourage children to be open, to not keep secrets to keep them safe and to talk about how they feel but they do not have the cognitive ability to navigate the complexity of divorce to be able to verbalise what they are experiencing.  Adults find it difficult to process and use maladaptive behaviours to cope themselves. There is more help for adults experiencing divorce than there is for children.  Divorced parents may not want their child speaking to someone else about what is happening for fear of more conflict between the parents.  They are expected to just get on with it, divorce is common.  Children of divorced parents can experience attachment trauma, they do not know who or how to trust others. This can lead to further disconnect with siblings or extended family because they will all experience the impact of divorce differently.  And life carries on.

So I’d like to ask you, where is your childs 3rd Space?  Who is your childs safe regulated adult? What are your child’s coping strategies or maladaptive behaviours?

If you do not know yet, I encourage you to start by looking at your own. How do you cope? Who supports you? How often do you access your 3rd space? Chances are if you don’t have one your child won’t have one either. Just start by getting curious.

Our children may not want to share with us directly their emotional distress because we are their primary care giver – they are wired to be connected to us- their neuroception will be scanning our faces and body language for cues of safety and danger and will be weighing up whether it is safe to share their feelings and emotions – they may not be able to verbalise them as there may be so many they do not know where to start. There may not be many opportunities during the week where they feel there is enough time to process how they are feeling and they may have shared something previously which made the environment at home or at school or both worse for them.

They are connection seeking not attention seeking. Telling our children to “just get on with it” isn’t working. It never did really, did it?

If you want to learn how to create a 3rd space for your child, it is possible, it is not easy I’ll be honest but it is possible and it creates a connection with your child that you may have never have had yourself with your parents so you may not feel comfortable starting this journey.

But if you are curious, the first step is learning how to create a pause between your child opening up to you and you not reacting. 

Holding space whilst your child processes their emotional distress in whatever way is right for them can be very  triggering for our own emotional distress if we ourselves have a low sense of self, low self-worth, low- self esteem.  We can feel personally attacked, guilty, angry, frustrated, sad, and so it is essential to build capacity for yourself first.

It starts with looking at our own sense of self – our own self worth, our own attachment wounds, and learning about the the vagus nerve. Toning our vagus nerve so we can hold space for our kids. Toning our vagus nerve needs to be taught by our parents in childhood, and if you weren’t taught you will need to learn how to tone yours so you can model this for your child so they can learn how to tone theirs. Regulating our nervous systems so we can connect. Healing our wounds so we can upgrade how we feel about ourselves so we can hold space for our children. Our nervous systems want to co-regulate we just don’t know how.

The strategies themselves are simple:

Breathing,Tapping, Cold water, Being outside in nature, Movement, Connection, Music, Releasing stored emotion from past events that we may not even realise we are carrying.

Consciously connecting with these strategies, learning them, practising them, experiencing them – taking imperfect action to engage with them – that is the hard part because we have become so disconnected from these strategies in our day to day lives we don’t know how to access them without a timetable. Or a schedule.

Children need connection with a regulated adult on a regular basis. We all need connection with regulated adults on a regular basis. This give us all the capacity to cope with life and can lead to building high self worth.

In summary – 

Learn how to regulate your own nervous system, Create the 3rd space for yourself and your child, Upgrade your self worth by healing your own wounds and learning how to process emotions safely and regularly.

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